Gastroenteritis outbreak: NSW Health encourages members of the public to wash hands

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A woman washes her hands during the drought season in La Paz, Bolivia, November 22, 2016. Reuters/David Mercado

Gastroenteritis outbreaks across New South Wales have sent nearly 2,000 people in emergency departments in the past week, health authorities revealed. NSW Health has urged members of the public, especially those with gastro symptoms, to wash their hands.

Viral gastroenteritis is extremely contagious and usually spread through a direct contact with an infected person. Norovirus and rotavirus spread easily from one person to another, especially if hands are not carefully washed before handling food or after using the toilet, Director of the Communicable Diseases Branch Vicky Sheppeard warned.

She said the best defence is to wash hands thoroughly with soap and running water. This should be done at least 10 seconds before handling and eating food. Sheppeard also stressed the importance of washing hands after using the toilet or changing nappies.

The increase in cases amounts to a 34 percent jump from same week in 2016. The gastro increase coincides with a climb in viral gastro. The latter is caused by norovirus and rotavirus in the community including aged care facilities and child care centres.

Sheppeard said several emergency departments across NSW have seen more than the usual number of gastro attendances for this time of year. These include EDs in South Eastern Sydney, Northern Sydney, Illawarra Shoalhaven, Sydney and Nepean Blue Mountains Local Health Districts.

In total, 32 gastroenteritis outbreaks were recorded in child care centres or aged care facilities in the past week. At least 286 people were affected.

There were six aged care facilities and 12 child care centres across greater Sydney that recorded gastroenteritis outbreaks in the past week. It affected 61 and 80 people, respectively.

Over 400 people had suffered bad bouts of the infection. It also comes amid the worst influenza season in several years. Records show more than 8000 people with confirmed flu heading at EDs in the past week.

The NSW Health said all of these outbreaks appear to be caused by viral gastroenteritis. Four were caused by norovirus. Kids are eligible for the rotavirus vaccine at six weeks and four months of age.

"Our emergency departments are very busy at this time of the year but are well equipped to manage the demand,” the Sydney Morning Herald quotes Sheppeard as saying. She stressed it is important that the community recognises the best place to seek treatment, including a GP or pharmacist, adding those with gastro symptoms must avoid hospitals and aged care facilities to avoid the spread of the infection. Meanwhile, watch the video below to know the latest about the US' health care system.

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