Gastroenteritis outbreaks in child care settings

08 January 2021

8 January 2021

Since November 2020 there have been increased reports of gastroenteritis outbreaks in child care settings in South Australia. Other jurisdictions (Queensland, Victoria, NSW, ACT, Western Australia and New Zealand) have reported a similar pattern.

In South Australia there were 4 outbreaks reported in November, and 17 in December. Since gastroenteritis and norovirus infections are not notifiable conditions in South Australia, this is an under-estimate of the number of outbreaks.

In the reported outbreaks, most did not have specimens submitted for laboratory diagnosis, although in at least one outbreak norovirus was confirmed. The clinical presentation of short-lived vomiting and diarrhoea among children in most of these outbreaks is also consistent with norovirus infection.

Viral gastroenteritis is highly infectious and is spread through contamination of hands, objects or food with infected faeces or vomit. The virus is then taken in by the mouth. Viral gastroenteritis may also be spread through coughing and sneezing.

Symptoms of viral gastroenteritis include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, fever, abdominal pain, headache and muscle aches. Symptoms usually take 2 to 3 days to develop and usually last between one or two days, sometimes longer.

Doctors are asked to:

  • Advise parents/care-givers to keep young children at home while unwell. Children should not return to child care until well, and not had any diarrhoea or vomiting for at least 48 hours.
  • Advise parents/ care-givers to seek further medical advice if symptoms persist or are severe.
  • Advise that children (and adults) recovering from gastroenteritis should avoid visiting hospitals and aged care facilities until fully recovered.
  • Collect a stool sample for enteric pathogens from children presenting with gastroenteritis who have recently attended child care. Most laboratories include norovirus in this test.
  • Provide parents and caregivers with relevant fact sheets - The You’ve Got What? Viral gastroenteritis fact sheet 
  • Adults who are staff at child care centres who present with gastroenteritis should also be tested and given fact sheets with advice on exclusion and management.
  • Provide, on request, advice to child care centre management, including handwashing with soap and water (alcohol-based hand sanitizers are not as effective against some viruses, including norovirus), reinforce cleaning and sanitising measures and refer managers to Staying Healthy: Preventing infectious diseases in early childhood education and care services.
  • Diarrhoea and vomiting can also be symptoms of COVID-19, if in doubt also test for COVID-19.

For further information

See Gastroenteritis for Health Professionals

For all enquiries

Please contact the CDCB on 1300 232 272 (24 hours/7 days)

Dr Doug Shaw – A/Director, Communicable Disease Control Branch