Five tips to managing gastroenteritis outbreaks in early childhood centres

Gastroenteritis outbreaks in early childhood education and other care services can be disruptive to staff and families that attend the centre. This can also impact staff attendance as well as parents work life.


Tip #1: Communication

The number one tip on outbreak management is communication. It is vital that staff, visitors and parents are alerted regarding the outbreak immediately. Fast and effective communication assists in ensuring that good hygiene is practiced by staff, visitors and children instantly.


Tip #2: Sing Happy Birthday

Hand washing is the simplest and most cost-effective method of preventing the spread of infection. Children should be supervised and assisted where required so the correct method is used, ensuring hands are clear of germs.

Always wet hands first with running water. Apply liquid soap to hands, lather hands thoroughly including wrists, the palms, between the fingers, around the thumbs and under the nails. This needs to be done for about the same time it takes to sing Happy Birthday. Rinse hands under running water and dry hands thoroughly with a paper towel.

It is important to select hand washing products that are non-irritant and easy to use. It is also important to ensure the centre has adequate supplies of hand washing products and paper towels.

Alcohol based hand rubs/gels (e.g. 60-80% alcohol-based solutions) can be used to decontaminate hands when hand washing facilities are not available, but hands should be washed as soon as appropriate facilities are available as gels are not effective against some viruses. In addition to this, alcohol-based hand gels are not useful if hands are visibly dirty or contaminated. 


Tip #3: Dry hands, don’t just wash them

Did you know that drying hands effectively is almost just as important as hand washing? Wet or damp hands can pick up and transfer up to 1,000 times more bacteria than dry hands. Drying hands thoroughly can also help to remove any germs that may not have been rinsed off with handwashing.


Tip #4: Don’t forget about environmental cleaning

Some harmful viruses survive well and can spread via contaminated environmental surfaces. In an outbreak, additional cleaning is required to ensure frequently touched environmental surfaces such as door handles, rails, phones, bathroom taps, children’s tables, toys and other surfaces remain clean and germ free. Use a single use disposable cloth for cleaning, or where necessary, a soft brush to remove visible grime. Oxivir Wipes are ideal as they are specially formulated to kill 99.9% of germs.

Spray bottles are not recommended for general cleaning. Spraying a surface with a mist and then wiping it with a cloth or paper towel will not be enough to dislodge germs. There’s also a risk of germs growing in the bottle and in the detergent mixture. 


Tip #5: Replace the play dough

Another good tip to consider during an outbreak is dispose of play dough daily. All cooking activities should be cancelled as well as any excursions. It is important to contain the outbreak so it does not spread outside of the centre.

A final thorough clean of all surfaces including soft furnishings should be carried out once the outbreak has been declared over, which would be at least 72 hours after the resolution of symptoms in the last case.

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