News National Swapping washing hands for sanitiser partly to blame for gastro outbreak
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Swapping washing hands for sanitiser partly to blame for gastro outbreak

People swapping soap for hand sanitiser has been linked to a gastro outbreak in Victoria. Photo: Getty
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We’re increasingly skipping water and soap in favour of hand sanitiser – and it could be making us crook.

A lack of proper hand washing is being blamed for a gastro outbreak throughout Victoria.

Diarrhoea, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, aches and sometimes fever – they’re the symptoms of the super contagious tummy bug.

So far this year, Victoria has recorded 389 gastro outbreaks in child care and early childhood education centres – March had 140 cases more than average.

Cases are four times higher than usual for this time of year, according to the state’s health department.

Victoria’s executive director for communicable disease, Dr Bruce Bolam, said washing hands with soap and water remained the best personal hygiene method to minimise the chance of spreading the virus.

“A good old-fashioned scrub with soap and warm water is the best way to remove the gastro virus from our hands and prevent passing it on to infect others,” Dr Bolam said.

Although alcohol-based sanitiser was considered useful against the coronavirus, Dr Bolam said it was much less effective against bugs like norovirus, which is the main cause of  Victoria’s current childcare outbreaks.

So if you’re shunning washing your hands in favour of just using sanitiser, you might be inadvertently putting yourself in the firing line.

It can take up to three days for gastro symptoms to develop, and they usually last between one or two days.

In rare cases it can develop into much more serious illness.

And it’s not just Victoria experiencing gastro outbreaks.

Professor Vitali Sintchenko, a clinical microbiologist at the University of Sydney and NSW Health Pathology, said the illness was cropping up in New South Wales, too.

“Hand sanitisers vary in quality and may not work as well as others,” he told The New Daily.

“But to what extent this change in behaviour is responsible for (the outbreaks), it’s hard to say. We’ve seen this increase in activity of viral gastroenteritis in children and adults over time, years ago, when hand sanitisers were not as popular as they are during COVID.”

Professor Sintchenko said the typical way for viral gastroenteritis to spread was via contaminated surfaces, and sometimes water supply.

“In childcare settings, this is where saliva is everywhere and children touch surfaces and put fingers in their mouth,” he said.

“Whenever possible, wherever possible, soap will give you a much more thorough cleaning of your hands and will be more effective.”

Quick health advice

  • Teach your children about the importance of hand washing
  • If your child catches the gastro virus, keep them home from child care until 48 hours after they recover
  • Childcare staff who experiencing vomiting or diarrhoea should stay home for at least 48 hours after they recover
  • If symptoms persist or worsen, see a GP for advice
  • Anyone recovering from gastroenteritis should avoid visiting hospitals, early childhood services and aged-care facilities to avoid spreading the infection
  • Any person living in a household with someone who has gastroenteritis should not visit high-risk facilities until at least 48 hours after the last person in the household has recovered.

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