Winter is the most common time for viral gastroenteritis and there are warnings that it will be worse than usual this year.

Viral gastroenteritis is a stomach and intestine infection. Symptoms include vomiting, stomach pain and diarrhoea, usually lasting 1-2 days, but they may last longer.

It is caused by viruses (bugs). The most common type, called norovirus, is usually caught from an infected person’s vomit or faeces. For example, vomiting can spray out norovirus-containing particles that stick to surfaces. If your hand accidentally touches these particles, then touches your mouth, viral gastroenteritis can easily develop.

Why Winter?

Viral gastroenteritis may be more common in winter because norovirus prefers cooler temperatures.

The warning is that it will be worse this year because of a new strain first identified in a Sydney laboratory last year, called Sydney 2012. Even if you’ve had viral gastroenteritis before, you won’t be immune and protected from this new strain.

Prevention and Treatment

A person sick with viral gastroenteritis is infectious from when symptoms first appear, up until 48 hours after symptoms stop. Fortunately, simple measures can prevent you catching it, including:

  • Cleaning surfaces: Use hot water and disinfectant.
  • Hand washing: Soap and running water for 10 seconds, then dry your hands with a clean towel. Do this before preparing food and after the toilet, changing nappies and helping an infected person.

While there are no medications for viral gastroenteritis, rest and drinking fluids to prevent dehydration (due to vomiting and diarrhoea) is recommended. The very young, older-aged and people with weak immune systems are most vulnerable to dehydration and may need a doctor.

For help: See your doctor or ring After Hours GP Helpline 1800 022 222

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