28 March 2024

Gastro outbreak an early warning to be ready for increase in viruses during the colder months

| Claire Fenwicke
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sick person lying in bed with medicines

The winter months are usually when we see an increase in virus cases across Canberra. Photo: File.

As Canberra’s weather begins to get colder we’re being reminded to ensure we’re keeping up with vaccinations and good hygiene practices to keep winter bugs at bay.

Several viruses are already circulating in the Territory and Capital region, including the flu, RSV, COVID-19, gastroenteritis, giardiasis and cryptosporidiosis.

ACT Health is also investigating a gastro outbreak following a 17 March private function at Eastlake Gungahlin.

A spokesperson said a total of 77 people reporting becoming unwell after attending the event. Their ages range from nine to 53.

Four people ended up going to hospital for treatment but none were admitted.

“The incubation period and symptoms were consistent with infection with norovirus, which was confirmed by specimens collected from some of the affected individuals,” the spokesperson said.

“Given the number of affected people at the function and based on epidemiological analysis, it is likely that the virus was spread through the consumption of contaminated food at the function.

“However, it is not possible to confirm this assessment definitively or how the contamination occurred.”

ACT Health surveyed 233 individuals as part of its investigation and inspected the venue’s food preparation, storage and hygiene practices, and did not identify an ongoing risk to the public.

“Bacterial analysis of food samples available and collected during the inspection did not reveal any areas of concern,” a spokesperson said.

“No further action is proposed in relation to the business.”

Gastro is common at all times of the year and while there hasn’t been a “significant” increase in the ACT community at this time, numbers could increase during winter.

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Seasonal viruses such as RSV and influenza also generally increase during the colder months.

According to the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, there were more than 16,000 laboratory confirmed cases of the flu across the country in January and February.

“That’s nearly double what was recorded (8592) for the same period in 2023, and for the five years prior,” a statement noted.

“The flu strains circulating in the community this year are different from last year.”

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) has recommended that annual vaccination should ideally occur before the onset of each influenza season.

“The onset of the influenza season in temperate Australia has been earlier than usual since 2022,” a statement advised.

“While protection is generally expected to last throughout the year, the highest level of protection occurs in the first three to four months after vaccination.”

If a person has already had the flu in late 2023 or earlier this year, it’s still recommended they receive a 2024 formulation of an influenza vaccine.

Once you’ve been vaccinated, it generally takes about two weeks to build immunity.

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ACT Health has this advice to help protect yourself and others from illness in the colder months:

  • stay up to date with vaccinations and speak with a healthcare professional about which ones are recommended for you
  • practise good hand and respiratory hygiene, such as washing or sanitising your hands frequently and coughing and sneezing into your elbow or sleeve
  • stay home if you’re unwell
  • maintain your physical and mental health over the winter months by keeping active, eating well, spending time outdoors if you can and getting enough sleep.

“If you are at higher risk of severe illness, ask your primary care provider about what to do if you become unwell, including having a plan. This should cover testing, treatment, and health care options,” a spokesperson advised.

“Other people, such as older neighbours, friends and family members, may need some extra help over the winter too. Check in on them if you can.”

Original Article published by Claire Fenwicke on Riotact.

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