NSW Health Issues a Public Health Alert for Gastroenteritis Outbreaks at Childhood Education Centres

Parents are being urged to keep children at home if they are unwell following a substantial increase in the number of gastroenteritis outbreaks in childcare being reported to NSW Health.

NSW Health Executive Director of Health Protection Dr Richard Broome said 156 outbreaks of gastroenteritis in early childhood education centres were reported in NSW in February 2022.  This is a 97% increase in outbreaks normally reported in February with almost 1,000 children and more than 210 staff members being affected.

A childhood education centre is required under the Public Health Act 2010 to notify their local Public Health Unit if there is a Schedule 2 Notifiable disease.   Gastroenteritis among people of any age, in an institution (for example, among persons in educational or residential institutions) is a notifiable disease.  According to the Gastro Pack for Childcare Centres a gastro outbreak occurs when 2 or more children or staff have sudden onset of vomiting or diarrhoea in a 2-day period.

A Northern Sydney Local Health District spokesperson told ITC that five active outbreaks have been notified for centres in the North Sydney, Willoughby, and Lane Cove LGA’s.  One active outbreak has been notified by a Lane Cove based Early Childhood Education Centre.

Viral gastroenteritis is highly infectious. Viruses are spread from the vomit or stool (faeces) of an infected person. This can occur when cleaning up body fluids, during person-to-person contact, sharing of contaminated objects and occasionally inhaling airborne particles when people vomit.

Viral gastroenteritis symptoms include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhoea
  • fever
  • abdominal pain
  • headache and muscle aches.

Symptoms can take up to three days to develop and usually last between one or two days, and sometimes longer.

NSW Health advice for parents and caregivers includes:

  • Keep children experiencing gastroenteritis home from childcare services and school. Children should not return until 48 hours have passed since their last symptom.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly and regularly with soap and running water, particularly after changing nappies, assisting someone with diarrhoea and/or vomiting and before preparing food. Alcohol hand sanitiser is generally less effective than soap and water but can be used if these are not available.
  • Immediately and thoroughly clean contaminated surfaces with hot, soapy water and then disinfect the area using a household disinfectant. If possible, disinfect with a freshly made sodium hypochlorite (bleach) solution, prepared according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Immediately remove and wash clothing or linen that may be contaminated with stool or vomit (use hot water and detergent).
  • Wear gloves and a mask when cleaning up bodily fluids, including vomit.

The main treatment for viral gastroenteritis is to rest and drink plenty of fluids. Most people recover without complications, but it can be serious for infants, people with suppressed immune systems, and the elderly.

Information on how to prevent the spread of gastroenteritis can be found here.

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