Hospitals on watch after gastro outbreak

A GASTRO outbreak running rampant through the community has two hospitals and an aged care centre on high alert.

In the past five days, 25 patients at Nambour General and Caloundra hospitals have displayed symptoms of norovirus gastroenteritis.

The common yet highly contagious form of gastro has forced hospital staff to isolate infected patients.

The nasty virus, which leaves the patient infectious for 48 hours, occurs easily in areas where there are a concentrated number of people in one area, such as child care centres, aged care homes, hospitals and schools.

Queensland Health confirmed yesterday that a Sunshine Coast aged care centre had also reported a small outbreak of norovirus gastroenteritis and was working to manage the spread.

The main symptoms are vomiting, diarrhoea, nausea, stomach cramps, fever and headaches.

Sunshine Coast Hospital and Health Service Infection Control specialist Dr Keat Choong said it was also essential people with symptoms of gastroenteritis avoid visiting others already in the hospital.

"We want to minimise the risk of an outbreak and protect vulnerable hospital patients from the adverse effects," Dr Choong said.

The hospitals have a stringent no visitor policy in affected areas during such episodes except in exceptional circumstances.

"We must urge the community to remember that if they are unwell they should not visit patients in a hospital environment as they can pass their illness on to the patient and those around them," Dr Choong said

So far, seven cases of norovirus gastroenteritis have been confirmed at Nambour and 18 at Caloundra.

"Hydration is extremely important for a person with norovirus gastroenteritis,'' Dr Choong said.

"The virus has no specific treatment, it just needs to run its course.

"But the aged and the young are certainly most at risk."

The outbreak follows a statement from Queensland Health yesterday which confirmed 17 more people were being tested for E.coli following an outbreak at the Ekka last month.

So far, 32 people have confirmed to have been infected with the bacteria, including four who were hospitalised.

The outbreak was tracked to the annual Royal Queensland Show's petting zoo after a woman and her three children tested positive.

To date this year, the Sunshine Coast Public Health Unit has been asked to investigate two separate cases of E.Coli-Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STECs) to determine if a source could be identified.

"It is very difficult to determine a source for single cases," Sunshine Coast Hospital and Health Service chief operating officer Karen Roach said.

"There have been no Sunshine Coast cases linked back to the Ekka E.Coli outbreak."


Viral gastroenteritis facts

• Outbreaks can easily occur where there is a concentrated number of people in one area such as child care centres, aged care facilities, hospitals and schools.

• The aged and the very young are more susceptible.

• A person with viral gastroenteritis is infectious while they have symptoms and for at least 48 hours after the symptoms have gone away.

• It is important for children to stay at home from school or child care, and people to stay home from work if they are employed in aged care, child care and food-handling industries during this time.

• If someone in a household has viral gastroenteritis, then the whole household needs to be extremely careful with personal hygiene by taking the following steps: