A new strain of the virus that causes gastroenteritis (“gastro”) has been discovered in Victoria and health experts believe it could become an epidemic.
By analysing data from the past 14 years, researchers from Melbourne’s Doherty Institute have determined that this new strain is likely to cause an outbreak in the next 2 to 7 months. Dr. Catton of the Institute stated that "Noroviruses are so infectious that when a significant new strain emerges it tends to go global.”
The new strain is a “reshuffle of the genetic information of the virus”, meaning that most people would be susceptible to infection. The virus is yet to be officially named, but is provisionally entitled “Melbourne 2016”.
What is it?
Sometimes referred to as “gastro” or “stomach flu”, viral gastroenteritis is an intestinal infection that causes diarrhea, vomiting, fever and abdominal cramps.
It can be caused by a number of different viruses including Rotavirus and Norovirus. The infection can also be caused by bacteria, toxins, parasites and some non-infectious diseases.
The virus is transmitted through contact with infected faeces or vomit, person-to-person contact, through contaminated food or water or through touching a contaminated surface.
While symptoms can be severe, viral gastroenteritis is usually a brief disease. Symptoms can take between one and three days to develop and for most people, vomiting and diarrhoea should subside after one or two days.
Who is at risk?
Viral gastroenteritis can affect everybody - however, the elderly, young and immuno-compromised are especially vulnerable to this new strain. For this reason, aged care facilities and child care centres are highly prone to the spread of the virus.
How to avoid it
Gastroenteritis has no vaccine and those who have become immune to previous strains won’t necessarily be immune to “Melbourne 2016”.
To avoid contracting the virus, good hygiene practices are vital. The best way to avoid gastroenteritis is to wash your hands frequently with liquid soap and water. If possible, it helps to avoid places where gastro is likely to spread such as aged care facilities, child care centres and hospitals.
What to do if you think you're infected
If you believe you may be affected with gastroenteritis you should seek medical advice if symptoms are serious. There are no specific treatments for Gastro except for resting and drinking plenty of fluids. After a few days, most people should recover without complications. It is important to remember that viral gastroenteritis can be seriously harmful to the young, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.
People with vomiting or diarrhoea should:
- Not attend work and rest at home. Infants and children attending childcare or school should be excluded from attending for 24 hours after symptoms have subsided.
- Not prepare food for others or care for patients, children, or the elderly. These precautions should continue until 48 hours after diarrhoea or vomiting have ceased.
- Wash hands thoroughly with liquid soap and running water for 10 seconds after using the toilet.
- Drink plenty of clear fluids, for example juice or soft drink diluted 1 part to 4 parts water, to prevent dehydration. Avoid undiluted fruit juice and soft drinks as they may increase dehydration and diarrhoea. Rehydration drinks that replace fluids and salts are available from chemists. Intravenous fluids may be needed in severe cases of dehydration.
How to care for those with viral gastroenteritis
People caring for those with gastroenteritis should wash their hands thoroughly after any contact with the sick person. Cleaning soiled surfaces and clothing reduces further spread of the virus.
When cleaning up vomit or faeces:
- wear gloves
- wash hands with liquid soap and running water for 10 seconds after gloves are removed and disposed
- use disposable paper towels or rags to remove any solid material and seal them in a plastic bag before placing in the rubbish bin
- clean any soiled object or surface with hot water and detergent and allow to dry thoroughly
For further information on the effects of viral gastroenteritis refer to the NSW Government Health site.