Gastro circulating in childcare

Washing your hands is the best way to prevent gastro. Picture: KRISTINE WOOK, UNSPLASH

The City of Casey has seen 17 outbreaks of dreaded gastro at childcare centres since the beginning of the year.

That’s compared to just six outbreaks in neighbouring Cardinia Shire, and two in Greater Dandenong.

It means Casey is second only to Greater Geelong in the gastro stakes, with the western city recording 29 outbreaks since the start of 2021.

But experts say good old-fashioned handwashing with soap and water is still the best defence against the outbreak of viral gastroenteritis which has spread through Victorian early childhood education and care services this year.

Overall there have been 389 outbreaks in childcare so far in 2021, up by more than 140 on a month earlier, and four times higher than the average for this time of year.

Victoria’s executive director for communicable disease, Dr Bruce Bolam, said childcare workers, the children and their families all had a role to play in limiting the spread of the virus.

Children needed to be taught and reminded of the need for handwashing, and families needed to keep their kiddies home from early childhood services until 48 hours after they recover.

“Gastroenteritis can spread quickly through settings such as early childhood education and care services, where children play and interact closely with each other and can readily spread their bugs,” Dr Bolam said.

“It is important that early childhood services have good hygiene practices in place and to respond quickly with thorough cleaning if any children become ill.

“Handwashing with soap and water is still the best personal hygiene method to minimise the chance of spreading the virus.

“A good old-fashioned scrub with soap and warm water is the best way to remove the gastro virus from our hands and prevent passing it on to infect others.”

Dr Bolam said that while alcohol-based sanitiser is at the front line in tackling coronavirus, it is much less effective against bugs such as norovirus, which is the predominant cause of the current childcare outbreaks.

Viral gastroenteritis is highly infectious. 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, sometimes longer.

In rare cases it can develop into much more serious illness.

Infants or children in early childhood services or school as well as staff who develop vomiting or diarrhoea should stay at home for at least 48 hours after their symptoms have stopped.

If symptoms are severe or they persist, people should see a GP for advice and testing.

Anyone recovering from gastroenteritis should avoid visiting hospitals, early childhood services and aged care facilities to avoid spreading the infection to those most vulnerable.

Any person living in a household with someone who has gastroenteritis should refrain from visiting these high-risk facilities until at least 48 hours after the last person in the household has recovered.