Gastroenteritis

You may have heard that a new strain of Norovirus (“Melbourne 2016”) was discovered late last year, and there were concerns around its potential to become an epidemic as it is likely that most people will not have any immunity to it: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-09-30/norovirus-strain-discovered-in-victoria-may-become-epidemic/7893466.

So, this makes it even more important to maintain good hygiene practices at all times. I shouldn’t have to say this, but this includes flushing the toilet and not leaving any of your bodily substances on bathroom surfaces where others may come into contact with them. This includes toilet seats, walls, taps and door handles.

Hand sanitiser has been placed in all College bathrooms – please wash your hands AND use this after going to the toilet and either wash your hands or use the hand sanitiser before eating or handing kitchen implements that will also be used by others.

Don’t share water-bottles, cups, glasses, towels, face-washers or clothing.

If you do get sick, stay put to minimise the risk of infecting others. Let the Scouts know as soon as possible so that they can take extra precautions with bathroom cleaning.

If an episode of gastroenteritis affects your ability to study or submit assignments or sit exams, and you require a medical certificate, then consult a doctor as soon as possible (whether this is the College Medical Officer or Student Health or another GP service).

Further information about gastroenteritis can be found below or via the following web link: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/gastroenteritis.

Common symptoms

The most common symptoms of viral gastroenteritis are non-bloody diarrhoea, vomiting (which may be severe), nausea, headache, fever and chills, lasting 12–60 hours.

How does viral gastroenteritis spread?

The spread of infection to other people in the same living situation and other close contacts is very common. The causative viral agent can be found in human faeces, and viral gastroenteritis occurs as a result of taking the virus in by mouth. This may happen in any of the following ways:

  • From person to person, either directly by close personal contact or contact with the faeces or vomit of an infected person, or indirectly by touching contaminated surfaces such as taps, toilet flush handles, door handles or soiled clothing;
  • Airborne droplets may be formed when a person vomits or has diarrhoea. These droplets can also contaminate surfaces with viral particles; or
  • Drinking or eating contaminated beverages or foodstuffs.

After taking in a gastroenteritis virus by mouth, it usually takes 10–72 hours before you become ill, depending on the type of virus.

Infected people can continue to have the virus in their faeces and pass the infection on to others for several days after their symptoms have stopped.

People can also briefly carry the viruses which cause viral gastroenteritis without ever having had any symptoms. These people can still pass the disease on to others.

Advice for self-care and helping to contain the outbreak

In these sorts of situations, there are two main goals that we would like to accomplish:

  1. Adequate self-care and awareness; and
  2. As far as possible, limiting or halting the spread of infection to others.

With regard to self-care and awareness, these are some important principles:

  • Look after yourself and rest for the duration of the illness. Especially in hot weather, even if you do not feel like eating, it is important to try to consume some fluids on a regular basis. The best fluid to use is ‘Oral Rehydration Solutions’ such as Gastrolyte, which are available from any pharmacy. Even if you are still vomiting, sip SMALL amounts regularly as it is rapidly absorbed by the stomach;
  • DO NOT use the following for rehydration purposes: sports drinks, soft drinks, home-made rehydration solutions or alcoholic beverages. ORS is better than plain water.
  • If you do not begin to recover or your symptoms are worsening or you notice anything unusual, such as blood, in the vomit or diarrhoea, seek medical advice promptly. Avoid using anti-vomiting or anti-diarrhoea drugs unless prescribed or recommended by your doctor, as these medications will delay clearance of the infection from inside your body.

Can I still work or go to classes?

As viral gastroenteritis is very infectious, it is advisable that people with symptoms do not work or attend places of learning until 48 hours after symptoms have stopped.

It is particularly important that food handlers and health care workers (or students on clinical placements) do not work for at least 48 hours after diarrhoea has stopped.

Limiting the spread of infection – good hygiene is the key!

General suggestions on how to reduce the risk of spreading or contracting gastroenteritis include:

Hand washing:

Everyone should wash their hands thoroughly with soap and warm running water (or antiseptic hand gel) for at least 15 seconds:

  • Before touching utensils, eating or preparing food;
  • After going to the toilet;
  • After using a handkerchief or tissue;
  • After touching potentially contaminated surfaces or objects;
  • After handling animals; or
  • After cleaning up when someone has been sick.

Towels and face washers should not be shared with a person who has gastroenteritis. If available, use disposable paper towels to dry your hands rather than cloth towels, since the infectious agents can survive for some time on objects.

Toilets and bathrooms need to be kept clean in order to minimise transmission of infection. Regular cleaning with suitable antiseptic agents is preferable, but between cleaning sessions measures such as antiseptic wet wipes can be used to clean exposed areas, for instance toilet seats, door handles and taps.