Nationwide gastro outbreak leaves thousands hospitalised

graphic of bacteria
Gastroenteritis is a a common illness that can cause vomiting and diarrhea.

Thousands of people have been hospitalised following a gastroenteritis outbreak on the east coast of the country, with the most severe outbreaks originating at aged care facilities and child care centres.

NSW Health says more than 1,900 people went to the emergency department last week suffering from vomiting and diarrhoea and 400 of those patients were admitted to hospital.

In Melbourne, there have been 20 reported cases of the virus, with the Herald Sun reporting that 80 per cent of those cases came from aged care facilities across the city.

Meanwhile, the Regis aged care facility in Yeronga, Queensland confirmed on Thursday they were dealing with a gastro outbreak. They made the announcement following the death of two elderly residents.

Read more: 10 top tips to help keep your gastrointestinal tract in tip-top shape

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While the facility has denied the deaths were linked to the virus, the patients’ families have asked Queensland Health to investigate the matter, reports News Corp.

The Department of Health said aged care facilities are expected to take serious precautions against viral infections and diseases.

“It is the responsibility of aged care providers to have appropriate infection control practices in place to prevent and manage any outbreak of infectious disease such as gastroenteritis,” a spokesperson from the Department of Health told Starts at 60.

“Homes should implement processes and standard precautions such as hand-washing and the use of protective equipment.”

Dr Vicky Sheppeard, director of the communicable diseases branch, NSW Health, has warned people to wash their hands regularly and stay at home if they’re sick.

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“Norovirus and rotavirus spread easily from person to person, particularly if hands are not carefully washed after using the toilet or before handling food,” Dr Sheppeard said.

“Symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, fever, abdominal pain, headache and muscle aches. These symptoms can take between one and three days to develop and usually last between one and two days, sometimes longer.

“The best defence is to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and running water for at least 10 seconds before handling and eating food, and always wash your hands after using the toilet, changing nappies or assisting someone who has diarrhoea or vomiting.”

Read more: How finding the right diet turned my life around at 70

While gastro often only lasts a few days, excessive vomiting and diarrhoea can lead to dehydration and death in extreme cases.

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The elderly and young children are particularly at risk.

Dr Sheppeard says says people with gastro should avoid aged care facilities and hospitals to avoid spreading the virus any further.

Have you been affected by gastro this winter? How do you stay healthy in winter?