Department of Health

Health advisory

Advisory number:
Date issued:
20 Feb 2023
Issued by:
Associate Professor Deborah Friedman, Deputy Chief Health Officer (Communicable Disease)
Issued to:
Childcare providers, parents with children in early childhood education, the Victorian community

Key messages

  • Parents and carers are urged to keep young children at home if they are sick amid a rise in outbreaks of viral gastroenteritis in Victorian childcare centres.
  • Symptoms can take up to three days to develop and usually last one to two days, sometimes longer, and often include vomiting and diarrhoea.
  • Anyone experiencing vomiting or diarrhoea should not attend work, childcare, kindergarten, camps or any other group activities until at least 48 hours after their symptoms have disappeared.
  • Washing hands with soap and water is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of infection.
  • Be vigilant for symptoms of gastroenteritis in children and reinforce basic hygiene measures.

What is the issue?

There have been 103 outbreaks of viral gastroenteritis in childcare centres from 1 January up to 21 February 2023, compared with 69 which is the five-year average for the same period.

Most of the current outbreaks are suspected or confirmed to be caused by norovirus. Viral gastroenteritis is highly infectious and can spread rapidly.

Who is at risk?

Viral gastroenteritis can affect people of all ages. Those most at risk of complications include the elderly, the very young and those with weakened immune systems.

Symptoms and transmission

Symptoms of viral gastroenteritis include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, fever, abdominal pain, headache and muscle aches. They can take up to three days to develop and usually last one to two days, sometimes longer.

The main treatment for viral gastroenteritis is to rest and drink plenty of fluids. Most people recover without complications but it may be serious for infants, people with suppressed immune systems, and the elderly.

The virus is present in the vomit and stool (faeces) of an infected person. Transmission can occur through cleaning up bodily fluids, person-to-person contact, sharing of contaminated objects, food via unwashed hands and occasionally inhaling airborne droplets when people vomit or have diarrhoea. These droplets can also contaminate surfaces with viral particles.

Transmission in childcare settings often occurs when unwashed hands are placed directly in mouths or touch food or drinks, or indirectly – by touching contaminated surfaces such as taps, toilet flush handles, children’s toys and nappies.


General advice

The best defence against the spread of viral gastroenteritis is to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and running water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling and eating food, and after using the toilet, changing nappies, or assisting someone who has vomiting or diarrhoea. Alcohol hand rub, while effective against some viruses is not sufficiently effective for preventing viral gastroenteritis.

If symptoms are severe or they persist, or you are concerned, see a GP for advice and possible testing.

Advice for parents and caregivers

  • Keep children experiencing gastroenteritis home from childcare, kindergarten, camps or any other recreational group activities until 48 hours have passed since their last symptom.
  • Wash hands thoroughly and regularly with soap and running water, particularly after changing nappies, assisting someone with diarrhoea and/or vomiting and before preparing food.
  • Supervise and assist young children to wash hands properly.
  • Cleaning and disinfection are important infection control measures and facilities should follow relevant Department of Health guidelines.
  • Immediately and thoroughly clean contaminated surfaces with hot, soapy water and then disinfect the area using a household disinfectant. If possible, disinfect with a freshly made sodium hypochlorite (bleach) solution, prepared according to manufacturer's instructions.
  • Immediately remove and wash clothing or linen that may be contaminated with stool or vomit (use hot water and detergent).
  • Wear gloves and a mask when cleaning up bodily fluids, including vomit, when symptoms commence at the centre.
  • Anyone whose work involves handling food or looking after children, the elderly or other vulnerable individuals should also stay home until at least 48 hours after symptoms cease.
  • Anyone recovering from gastroenteritis should avoid visiting hospitals, childcare centres and aged care facilities to avoid spreading the infection to those most vulnerable. Any person living in a household with someone who has gastroenteritis should refrain from visiting these settings until at least 48 hours after the last person in the household has recovered.

Reviewed 24 February 2023


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