Gastro outbreak at college investigated

SARAH DUNN
Last updated 13:00 17/02/2014

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The Public Health Service is investigating an outbreak of gastroenteritis at Waimea College that left staff with symptoms that included vomiting and diarrhoea over the weekend.

Principal Larry Ching declined to discuss the situation, but it is understood around 30 staff from the 1500-student school in Richmond were away sick yesterday.

Multiple people mentioned on social media that they had felt seriously ill on Saturday night, complaining of uncontrollable vomiting, chills, aches and pains, and more.

Dr Jill Sherwood, medical officer of health for Nelson Marlborough, said this morning that the outbreak was being investigated and its cause was yet unknown.

Neither neighbouring Waimea Intermediate nor Henley School was aware of the outbreak this morning. Henley School principal John Armstrong said they would remind pupils about the importance of hand-washing and they would be talking with their cleaning contractors.

Whareama rest home in Stoke banned all visitors last week when a norovirus outbreak went through the home. At least 10 residents in the 72-person rest home caught the bug, and several staff members were also infected.

The first cases were reported to Nelson Bays Primary Health on February 1.

What you need to know

The Ministry of Health says norovirus infections are characterised by acute nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and diarrhoea. Vomiting is more common in children and diarrhoea more common for adults.

The virus can incubate for 10-50 hours, and once sickness kicks in, it commonly lasts around 36 hours. It is possible for carriers to be infected without being sick themselves, and immunity acquired following an infection is short-lived.

The MIH described norovirus outbreaks as "common and often explosive", saying an estimated 53,000 cases of infection occurred each year in New Zealand.

To handle infected staff at facilities such as hospitals or rest homes, it recommended starting a "sickness log" to record details about who was sick, when it happened and when they might be expected back. The MIH said staff should be excluded at the first sign of nausea or abdominal pain, and suggested sending them home with information about hand hygiene and how to deal with "accidents" so that they did not pass on the infection to the people they lived with.

It recommended allowing staff back to work after they had been symptom free for at least 48 hours.

Dr Sherwood said the best way to avoid infection and prevent passing gastroenteritis bugs on to others was to thoroughly wash and dry hands.

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She said it was important to not visit rest homes, hospitals, or be out in large groups of people while the symptoms ran their course, and for 48 hours after the symptoms stop, saying those infected should not prepare food for others during this time.

Dr Sherwood said people experiencing vomiting and diarrhoea should drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. She said people should contact their doctor or practice nurse if they were concerned.

- Nelson

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