Fears of 'back to school' gastro outbreak

A sharp increase in gastroenteritis cases in NSW has prompted calls for parents to be on alert ahead of students returning to school in coming weeks.

If children do show signs of gastro they should not attend school or childcare venues, and should remain at home for 48 hours after their symptoms have passed, NSW Health said in a statement on Wednesday.

NSW Health epidemiologist Keira Glasgow said it was important to reduce the spread before schools return.

"The message to the community is clear - simple measures can help stop the spread of gastro," she said.

"Maintaining good hand hygiene and keeping children at home when they are unwell will give us a good chance to slow the spread before February, when children will all be back together at school."

Rotavirus is one common cause of viral gastroenteritis and can be particularly severe in young children.

Immunisation to prevent rotavirus infection is free for children under six months of age and is part of the childhood immunisation schedule.

In the first two weeks of 2023, 197 cases of rotavirus were detected in NSW compared with about 40 cases during the same period usually, many of which were children under the age of 16.

Viral gastroenteritis can spread from the vomit or faeces of an infected person and symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, fever, abdominal pain, headache and muscle aches.

Symptoms can take up to three days to develop and usually last between one or two days, and sometimes longer.

The main treatment for gastro is to rest and drink plenty of fluids. But infants, immunosuppressed people and the elderly may require more urgent care.