An outbreak of gastroenteritis in New South Wales, Australia, has seen almost 800 people hospitalised. The disease is easily spread from person to person, so if you’re visiting the area this summer take a look at our travel advice before you go.
What is gastroenteritis?
Gastroenteritis is a stomach bug that causes vomiting and diarrhoea and may be either bacterial or viral. More common in young children, it affects adults through food poisoning or a bug called norovirus. Norovirus often hits the headlines as the winter vomiting bug, as it is highly contagious and outbreaks spread quickly. Common symptoms of gastroenteritis include sudden diarrhoea, nausea and projectile vomiting as well as other common flu symptoms such as aching limbs and a headache.
How is it spread?
Gastroenteritis can be passed on through contact or close proximity with a person suffering from the illness. The infection is typically passed on through the particles of vomit or faecal matter. This may include contaminated food, objects or surfaces, and even airborne vomit particles exhaled by someone suffering from the disease.
Gastroenteritis through food poisoning can spread even if no one else is already suffering from the illness – food that has not been stored correctly or has been prepared using unclean utensils can often be at fault.
How can I protect myself and my family?
While it is a debilitating and incredibly unpleasant illness for sufferers, gastroenteritis is rarely life-threatening. As such it is not considered to be a serious disease, which is why the Foreign Office has not advised against travelling to New South Wales this summer. There is no vaccine currently available for viral gastroenteritis, but it is still possible to have a safe and enjoyable holiday to Australia.
The most important advice against gastroenteritis given by the NHS is to keep on top of personal hygiene. As always, hands should be washed when using the toilet as well as before and after preparing and eating food. If you are preparing your own food whilst in Australia, ensure that everyone who touches it washes their hands.
If you are eating at restaurants or at a hotel, do some research into the food hygiene rating of the establishment before you go. “Scores on the Doors Australia” is a similar scheme to the one in the UK, which shows a rating for food hygiene on the doors of any eatery. There is both a website and a smartphone app for this service, making it easier than ever to minimise the risk of gastroenteritis.
If you are worried that hand washing facilities will be limited whilst you are travelling, be sure to carry a small bottle of hand sanitising gel or anti-bacterial hand wipes with you. Don’t forget that any liquids you are carrying on a plane in hand luggage need to be under 100ml in capacity, so make sure your hand sanitiser is travel-sized or decanted into a small enough container. Hand gels are not as effective as washing hands with soap and water, so only use these if you have no other option.
What do I do if I catch gastroenteritis?
If you think that you or someone in your family has gastroenteritis, it is important that they rest. Cancel any activities to avoid spreading the bug, and do not attend any engagements until at least 48 hours after all the symptoms have passed. Even if you feel better, make sure that you wait a full two days as there is still the possibility that you can spread the illness.
Whilst you still have the illness, be sure to regularly disinfect surfaces that could potentially be contaminated such as kitchen counters, toilets and bathrooms. Be sure to use separate towels, cutlery and utensils and wash these separately. The same goes for bedding and clothing, which should also be washed separately and on a hot wash.
Also be sure to drink plenty of fluids, as frequent vomiting and diarrhoea can potentially lead to dehydration. If you take any daily medication, be sure to read the leaflet which will have advice regarding the way vomiting or diarrhoea can restrict their effectiveness.
Gastroenteritis often clears up in around a week. If symptoms are particularly severe and you feel that you or someone in your family needs urgent medical care, call the Australian emergency services on 000.