There is nothing worse than a case of gastro — acute nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea, transmitted through coming into contact with infected faeces or vomit, person-to-person, through contaminated food or water, or touching a contaminated surface, like a toilet.
A new strain of the virus that causes gastro has been identified to have its roots in Australia, particularly in Victoria, and the researchers behind the discovery warn it could soon become an epidemic, or even a pandemic.
This strain of norovirus — the most common cause of gastroenteritis – was first detected at a very low frequency in Victoria in August last year but resurfaced in a slightly altered form in June. Experts fear this slight change means it could skip around herd immunity.
Using 14 years of surveillance data from Victoria, the scientists who made the discovery say this strain has the potential to become a pandemic in two to seven months.
The discovery was made by the Royal Melbourne Hospital’s Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory at the Doherty Institute, and will be published today in the European journal Eurosurveillance.
Speaking to ABC News, Dr Mike Catton, the director of the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory and the co-deputy director of the Doherty Institute, said because it was a new strain of the virus, very few people would be immune.
“Noroviruses are so infectious that when a significant new strain emerges it tends to go global and be a worldwide phenomenon.
“We think it is a major reshuffle of the genetic information of that virus, something that nobody in the community would be immune to and therefore we have a risk of a potential sizeable outbreak.”
“We call it a two bucket virus because it’s diarrhoea and vomiting and you’d certainly feel unwell while you’ve got it,” Dr Catton said.
“Generally it’s a pretty brief disease for most people,” Dr Catton said.
“The peak infectious [period] continues for a day or two after that and that’s why the advice for cases is to not prepare food or to go to their work as a healthcare worker or as a childcare workers.”
There is no drug or vaccine to prevent the virus, so Dr Catton said hygiene, especially hand washing, would be vital.
For most people, the vomiting and diarrhoea symptoms would be expected to last between one and two days.
But the elderly, young or immuno-compromised would be at greater risk.