Warning as 'horrible' virus spikes by 400 per cent

An almost 400 per cent spike in a contagious virus targeting children in NSW has experts worried about containing it before school resumes next week.

Rotavirus is just one viral illness causing "very high" numbers of gastroenteritis in NSW hospitals, with doctors saying thousands of cases have presented to emergency departments in the first few weeks of 2023 – some of the highest numbers in 10 years.

"In the first two weeks of this year, there were almost 200 cases of Rotavirus (viral illness causing gastro most commonly in children) and that’s compared to about 40 cases being the usual amount," Dr Vincent Ho from Western Sydney University said. "We need to get this under control before children go back to school."

A generic photo of a crowd at Pitt Street Mall in the Sydney CBD.
Gastroenteritis is making the rounds in NSW in worryingly high numbers that are some of the highest in 10 years. Source: Getty

And it's not only kids being affected. Cases of 'Bali belly' are also on the rise in Australia.

About 20 per cent of the time, 'Bali belly', also known as traveller's diarrhoea, is caused by viruses like Rotavirus or Norovirus, which then bring on gastro, Dr Ho said.

Sydney resident Michael recently visited Bali for a post-Christmas holiday, where he contracted the condition, describing it as one of the worst experiences of his life.

“I felt like my organs were coming out of me,” he told Yahoo News Australia. “It was the weakest I’ve ever felt,” he said.

The problem then lingered when he returned to Australia, saying it took “weeks to come right”.

Although it can be caused by viruses, about 50 to 70 per cent of the time 'Bali belly' is caused by bacteria found in food and water when travelling.

A photo of travellers in Sydney Aiport.
Aussies are experiencing a rise in 'Bali belly' now that more people are travelling overseas to places like Indonesia and other developing countries.

Children should stay home for 48 hours before last gastro symptom

For those who have gastro caused by viruses like Rotavirus, Dr Ho provided the following recommendations.

"Hand washing is very important with water and soap for 15 seconds after going to bathroom, and certainly after caring for someone with Rotavirus," he said. "Make sure surfaces exposed to faeces are cleaned by water and detergent, and vomit is disinfected with bleach."

"This may not be obvious but children with gastro shouldn’t return to daycare or schools until 48 hours after their last symptom. They might feel really well but what we know is that the rotavirus particles are still present in the stool and can still infect others."

How to avoid 'Bali belly' overseas

Due to the surge in Aussie's travelling abroad, Chair of Travel Medicine and Executive Dean at at Bond University, Nicholas Zwar, has had several patients come to him about their "very unpleasant" experiences with 'Bali belly'. He offered some advice.

"Theres a saying called 'cook it, boil it, peel it or leave it' which is very hard to follow," he told Yahoo News Australia. "But if you can’t do that, particularly for food that’s been sitting there for a while, such as uncooked seafood, ice in drinks, they are at a higher risk of being contaminated with a germ like e.coli."

If one does get it, Mr Zwar said to focus on hydrating yourself, "especially if it's a child", use a medication called Imodium which helps "slow down the frequency of bowel actions" and if you're very unwell, see a doctor.

"If you were really quite unwell with fever or blood in the stool, or very severe cramping, you may need to see a doctor and they might prescribe an antibiotic if its bacterial," he said. "Most traveller's diarrhoea will get better in three to five days even if it's not treated with antibiotics."

"Phone your travel insurer to get advice on where to seek medical help in Bali."

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