Gastroenteritis outbreaks spike in childcare settings

A substantial spike in the number of viral gastroenteritis outbreaks in childcare centres across NSW has prompted health experts to issue advice to parents, urging them to keep their children at home if unwell.

There have been 156 gastroenteritis outbreaks in early childhood education centres reported to NSW Health this month, which has affected almost 1,000 children and more than 210 staff. This is a 97 per cent increase above the number normally reported for the month of February.

Gastroenteritis is a common illness that affects the gut (stomach and intestines) and is often 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.

Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, fever, abdominal pain, headache, and muscle aches. They can take up to three days to develop and usually last between one or two days, and sometimes longer.

If your child gets gastroenteritis, it is important to encourage them to rest and drink plenty of fluids. Children can become dehydrated due to a loss of fluid in the vomit or diarrhoea. Younger children, or children with other health problems, may become dehydrated more quickly. They should not return to day-care, kindergarten or school until 48 hours have passed since their last symptom.

To help prevent the spread of gastroenteritis, it is very important to wash your hands thoroughly and regularly with soap and running water – particularly after nappy changes, assisting your child with diarrhoea and/or vomiting, and before food preparation. Alcohol hand sanitiser is generally less effective than soap and water but can be used if these are not available.

For more information on how to manage gastroenteritis in your child, see our downloadable factsheet or visit the NSW Health website.