One of the most dangerous things about gastro is how contagious it is – something that can be a challenge when living in aged care.

Gastro, which is short for gastroenteritis, is an intestinal infection where those affected suffer from diarrhoea, cramps, nausea, vomiting and fever.

Elderly people are particularly susceptible to the more severe complications of gastroenteritis.  If not treated properly, the virus can be fatal.

There are many causes of infectious gastroenteritis, including contact with other infected persons, eating contaminated foods, and antibiotic associated diarrhoea.

A recent outbreak in a Brisbane aged care facility has seen the death toll rise to seven people.

Initially two residents fell ill and died at the Regis aged care home earlier this month. Following which, the facility went into lockdown to prevent the virus from spreading.

However, another five resident caught the infection and later died at the facility in the following weeks.

Gastro is typically spread by contact with an infected person or through contaminated food or water, though Regis have denied claims of poor hygiene.

There was another similar outbreak at another Regis facility in June where 15 people were affected by gastroenteritis. However, Queensland Health were able to confirm that there were no fatalities from that outbreak.

Mandatory Reporting for Aged Care

According to The Department of Health, an outbreak of gastroenteritis is defined as “where two or more people in a facility become ill with vomiting or diarrhoea within 24 hours of each other.”

When there is an outbreak, the facility must ensure that they meet their State or Territory legislation in reporting and managing outbreaks.

If a facility suspects they have a gastro outbreak, the first step is to notify the Department of Health within 24 hours. From there, the department officer will collect information on the number of cases, symptoms, duration of illness and other details.

Based on the information provided, the officer will assess the probable cause of the outbreak and the way in which it is likely to spread.

Should a resident die during the gastrointestinal outbreak, it must be reported to the department within 24 hours, giving the cause of death if known.  

How to Prevent Gastro from Spreading

Gasto is highly infectious and can be transmitted from person to person.

Where infected elderly residents are transferred to hospitals or other facilities without advising them that the person has gastroenteritis, they can cause outbreaks in those other facilities.

And it’s not only the residents at risk. Nurses, carers, kitchen staff, cleaners and laundry workers may be at risk when they clean environments and laundry contaminated with faeces or vomit, and should take extra precautions.

The most important way to prevent spreading of gastro is through good hand hygiene – meaning that you should consistently and thoroughly wash your hands with soap or alcohol based sanitiser. This should be done regardless of if gloves are being used or not.

Hygiene of the facility also plays a big role – keep any areas that are communal clean as they are the most likely places that others will catch the infection.

Keep all kitchen surfaces and equipment clean and clean the toilet and bathroom regularly, especially the toilet seat, door handles and taps.

To prevent spreading, residents or other infected people should be isolated from those who have not been infected. For the resident, this may mean being in a separate room or using a different bathroom.

How to Treat Gastro

There is no specific treatment for infectious gastroenteritis, however the early implementation of infection control procedures may limit the spread of infection and reduce resident illness or deaths.

For those who are infected, it is essential that they maintain their fluid intake as vomiting and diarrhoea can lead to dehydration. In severe cases, patients may need to be admitted to hospital for intravenous fluid replacement.

Avoid using anti-vomiting or anti-diarrhoea drugs unless prescribed or recommended by a doctor, because these medications will keep the infection inside the body and will delay recovery.

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Disclaimer: Please be aware the above article is merely information – not advice. If readers need medical advice, they should consult a doctor or other healthcare professional.

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