Gastro Outbreak Australia
A rail worker (R) hands out free bottles of water to help commuters at Sydney's Central Station cope with unusually high temperatures February 6, 2009. Reuters/Tim Wimborne

A wave of gastroenteritis outbreaks in NSW has sent more than 3,300 children and adults rushing to the hospital. Around 49 outbreaks in NSW childcare and nursing homes have been reported. The numbers are increasing. As per NSW Health figures, gastro cases have gone up over the past few weeks even surpassing influenza cases in peak flu season.

Most of the cases have been reported in aged-care and childcare facilities in the past three weeks. Some of the patients have tested positive for the aggressive norovirus strain. Since start of June, more than 100 cases have been reported.

Even though the elderly and young children were the most vulnerable, surprisingly a huge number of young adults contracted the infection last week. Hence authorities have warned the latest outbreak to be particularly severe. They believe the outbreaks are a result of a new strain of the virus. Lower immunity led to higher susceptibility among the community, reports The Sydney Morning Herald.

Western Sydney has been hit the hardest. Out of 3,353 people who attended emergency departments with the infection, about 798 had to be hospitalised during that period. Young adults aged between 17-34 years and children aged five and below have been severely affected.

“This year has also been unusual in that there have been a lot of otherwise presumably healthy, young adults presenting ... Certainly people should stay on the alert even though we are starting to see a slight trend down this week; there are still many thousands of cases out there,” Dr. Vicky Sheppeard, the NSW director of communicable diseases, told The Daily Telegraph.

Sheppeard has warned people to wash their hands regularly and stay away from childcare centres, schools and from work for at least 24 hours in case they feel sick from gastro-type symptoms. The symptoms of infection include muscle aches, headache, abdominal pain, fever, diarrhoea, vomiting and nausea.