Public health alert: Gastroenteritis 5 September

NT Government

NT Health is urging Territorians to take measures to protect themselves, following a recent rise in cases of rotavirus, norovirus and other causes of infectious gastroenteritis (gastro).

Gastro is spread by eating food or drinking water that has been contaminated by infected animals or people. It can also be acquired by handling contaminated objects or surfaces and then with unwashed hands touching your lips or mouth or eating handheld food.

Common gastro symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and stomach cramps. Other symptoms may include fever, headache, blood or pus in the faeces, loss of appetite, bloating, lethargy and body aches.

NT Health has reported 112 cases of rotavirus to date in 2023. This is an increase of 93% compared to the average number of cases (58) recorded as at 31 August over the past 5 years.

Rotavirus infection is the leading cause of severe gastro in young children globally. The majority of cases notified in the Northern Territory (NT) this year have been recorded in the Central Australia and Barkly regions among young children, who are most at risk of severe dehydration.

A vaccine is available and is the best protection against rotavirus. This is usually given free to children at 6 weeks and again at 4 months of age as part of the National Immunisation program. NT Health encourages Territorians to ensure their children are protected by checking immunisation records in the Australian Immunisation Register through MyGov or by talking to their GP or healthcare provider.

The highly infectious norovirus is another cause of gastro and may have been responsible for several outbreaks of gastro reported in the NT in the past month.

The cryptosporidiosis parasite can also cause gastro. NT Health has reported 168 cases of cryptosporidiosis to date in 2023. This is double the average number of cases (84) recorded as at 31 August over the past 5 years.

Gastro is preventable through simple measures in food preparation and hygiene.

You can protect yourself from gastro by:

• washing hands regularly with soap and warm water, especially before and after preparing food, after going to the toilet, or after changing nappies;

• ensuring meat, fish and poultry are cooked thoroughly and do not let raw meat contaminate other food;

• ensuring cutting boards, knives and plates for raw food are kept separate from ready-to-eat-foods.

Anyone with diarrhoea or vomiting is advised to:

• not prepare or handle food for others;

• stay home from work, school or childcare for at least 24 hours after the last episode of diarrhoea or vomiting (48 hours for healthcare workers or people who work with food preparation);

• not go into shared water spaces such as pools.

With any vomiting or diarrhoea, it is important to prevent dehydration and drink extra fluids. Babies should continue to be offered their normal feeds as well as extra fluids in between.

Most gastro will resolve on its own after a few days. Seek medical advice from a doctor if the person with gastro has any of the following:

• greater than 3 days or severe diarrhoea;

• difficulty keeping down any fluids at all;

• blood in the diarrhoea or stool;

• recent travel overseas or contact with someone who has been overseas.

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