How child care centres prevent the spread of gastro

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  Published on Wednesday, 07 August 2019

How child care centres prevent the spread of gastro

Library Home  >  Health, Wellbeing & Nutrition
  Published on Wednesday, 07 August 2019
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There's nothing fun about gastroenteritis. This highly-contagious infection causes nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, fever, stomach pain, headaches, and muscle aches, spreading like wildfire when hygiene standards slip.

In NSW an especially high number of under-fives sought medical treatment for gastro this year, and a gastroenteritis outbreak at more than 100 child care centres prompted a NSW Health warning.

Gastro can be serious for infants and very unpleasant at any age, so let's look at the two main ways that early childhood education services fight back against gastroenteritis and contain outbreaks amongst children and staff.

1. Using soap and water

Effective hand-hygiene is the number one way to prevent the spread of stomach lurgies and other infections between people and, for the main part, it involves washing hands with soap and running water to remove dirt and germs.

Acting manager of Enteric and Zoonotic Diseases at NSW Health, Keira Glasgow, says that gastroenteritis, 'Spreads easily between people if they haven't carefully washed their hands after using the toilet or before handling food' and adds, 'The best defence is to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and running water for at least 10 seconds before handling and eating food, and always wash your hands after using the toilet, changing nappies, or assisting someone who has diarrhoea or vomiting.'

Under the National Quality Standard, child care centres are obligated to promote children's health and safety, and the standards around hygiene and infection control in education and care services mirror what Ms Glasgow is recommending.

Effective soap and water hand-hygiene is used to prevent the spread of gastro and, in terms of general hygiene, child care services also rely on:

  • Alcohol-based hand rubs to reduce the number of germs on hands (these rubs don't remove dirt)
  • Antibacterial soap which kills some bacteria, but not viruses, like viral gastroenteritis
  • Hand-drying, which helps remove any germs that haven’t been rinsed off
  • Effective environmental cleaning, which involves the routine cleaning of surfaces, door handles, and toys with detergent and water, then rinsing and drying

Educators also encourage parents to follow the service's procedures around effective hand-hygiene and help children wash their hands properly at drop-off and pick-up.

2. Implementing exclusion policies

By excluding ill children, educators, and staff from the service for a set period of time after their symptoms have ceased, child care centres effectively limit the spread of gastro.

The National Health and Medical Research Council says, ‘The less contact there is between people who have an infectious disease and people who are at risk of catching the disease, the less chance the disease has of spreading.'

This means although it can put pressure on working families to keep children at home, services have written policies around exclusion, and it's important to remember the inconvenience and stress of keeping one child home reduces the risk of many others getting sick.

When it comes to timing, Ms Glasgow says that, 'Infants or children in child care or school who develop vomiting or diarrhoea should stay home for at least 48 hours after their symptoms have stopped' and that those looking after children should stay home for the same length of time.

Gastro is mainly treated with rest and by drinking plenty of fluids, so staying home is beneficial for a person's recovery as well.

Overall, the health and safety of children is a priority for child care services. There will be times when there is lots of gastro going around, simple hand-hygiene and effective exclusion polices can work wonders in reducing the spread of infection.


Blue Mountains Gazette
National Health and Medical Research Council

This child care article was last reviewed or updated on Monday, 30 December 2019

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