Viral Gastro fact sheet
What is gastroenteritis?
Viral gastroenteritis (gastro) is a common infection of the digestive tract that results in vomiting and diarrhoea.
What are the symptoms?
The most common symptoms are vomiting and diarrhoea. Other symptoms may include nausea, stomach cramps, fever, headache and muscle aches. Illness usually lasts one or two days but can last longer.
Severe gastro can lead to dehydration. The signs of dehydration include:
- increased thirst
- a dry mouth
- dark coloured urine (wee)
- producing less urine (wee) than usual (you may notice fewer wet nappies in young children)
- feeling lightheaded or dizzy.
Who is at risk?
Gastro can affect people of all ages but can be serious in young children, people with suppressed immune systems and the elderly.
How is it spread?
Gastro is highly infectious and is spread by the vomit and faeces (poo) of an infected person through:
- person-to-person contact
- contaminated objects
- contaminated food or drink.
How is it diagnosed?
Gastro is usually diagnosed based on a person’s symptoms. Sometimes the doctor may recommend a faeces sample be laboratory tested.
How is it treated?
There is no specific treatment, but it is important to drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.
People (particularly children) who become dehydrated may need to go to hospital for extra fluids.
Babies less than six months old with gastro should be seen by a doctor as they can become dehydrated very quickly.
How is it prevented?
Good hygiene is the best way to prevent the spread of gastro. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and running water for at least 10 seconds and dry them with a clean towel:
- after going to the toilet
- before preparing or handling food
- after changing nappies
- after cleaning up vomit or diarrhoea
- after cleaning up soiled linen.
What should I do if I have gastro?
Stay at home while you are sick and do not go to work or school.
Infants and children attending childcare or school should not return until at least 48 hours after the symptoms have stopped.
If you work in healthcare or childcare or are involved in food handling, you should not return to work until at least 48 hours after your symptoms have stopped.
Do not prepare or handle food for other people.
Wash your hands after going to the toilet and/or after vomiting.
Drink plenty of fluids such as water or juice (diluted one part to four parts water), to prevent dehydration.
Rehydration solutions that replace fluids and salts are available from pharmacies.
If you are vomiting a lot, try drinking small amounts of fluids more frequently.
Go to your doctor or hospital if you have signs of dehydration, are unable to keep down fluids or your symptoms get worse.
What should I do if I am caring for someone with gastro?
Always wash your hands with soap and running water after any contact with the sick person.
If you have to clean up vomit or faeces:
- wear gloves
- remove vomit and/or faeces with disposable paper or rags and seal in a plastic bag before placing in your rubbish bin
- clean soiled surfaces with hot water and detergent and allow to dry thoroughly
- when you have finished cleaning up, remove and dispose of your gloves and wash your hands with soap and running water.
- anyone with symptoms of gastroenteritis is recommended to stay home for 48 hours after their last episode of vomiting or diarrhoea.
What happens when there is a gastro outbreak?
Gastro outbreaks are common in winter among families and group settings including nursing homes, hospitals, childcare centres and schools.
General advice for managing an outbreak includes:
- Advising those who are unwell to stay at home.
- Separate those with symptoms from others where possible.
- Continue to follow routine cleaning checklists.
- Suspend all combined activities between rooms and age groups whilst there is an outbreak.
Infection control advice for managing an outbreak includes:
- Smaller plastic toys can be washed in the dishwasher on a hot cycle.
- Toys that are likely to be ‘mouthed’ or chewed should be either washed in the dishwasher OR cleaned then disinfected with a food grade sanitiser.
- Clean change mats and tables with detergent and then use a disinfectant. A 2-in-1 detergent/disinfectant wipe can be used if available.
- Where possible, remove items that cannot be cleaned thoroughly from affected rooms; clean and disinfect them as best as possible OR dispose of (or consider disposing of) them and replacing these after the outbreak is over.
- Wash cushions and other fabric-based items daily: consider removing from affected rooms until the outbreak is over.
- Steam clean floor rugs: consider removing them from affected rooms until the outbreak is over.
Public Health Services will give advice on how to manage and record the outbreaks.
Call the Public Health Hotline – Tasmania on 1800 671 738 to speak to a clinical nurse consultant.