Aged care setting gastroenteritis and acute respiratory illness outbreaks

Gastroenteritis (or gastro) is a common infection of the stomach and bowel that causes vomiting and/or diarrhoea. It is usually a mild illness and can be caused by many different viruses, bacteria and parasites.

Acute respiratory illness (ARI) is when a person has a respiratory infection which causes symptoms similar to the flu. This may include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, runny nose, headache and fatigue. There are many viruses which can cause ARI in older people. These include influenza, parainfluenza, respiratory syncytial virus, and COVID-19.

See the ACT Health COVID-19 webpage for information about public health guidance for acute respiratory illnesses in residential aged care facilities.

Preventing spread of infections

Remind family and friends who are unwell with gastroenteritis or ARI symptoms that they should not visit an aged care facility. For more information, see the advice for visitors to aged care facilities.

Isolate residents with symptoms to prevent spreading the infection to other residents in the facility.

Exclude unwell aged care staff from work. For gastroenteritis, exclude staff from work until 48 hours has passed since the last loose bowel motion or vomit. For ARI, exclude unwell staff from work for at least 5 days from onset of the acute illness, or until they are symptom free, whichever is longer.

Gastro outbreak process

Reporting a gastroenteritis or ARI outbreak

Under the Public Health Act 1997, aged care facilities are required to notify Communicable Disease Control if they have two (2) or more cases of gastroenteritis (diarrhoea and/or vomiting) among residents and/or staff in a 24-hour period.

Facilities should notify ACT health when there are two (2) or more residents with ARI in a 72-hour period. This includes in a COVID-19 or influenza outbreak. It is important to note that this is advice, not a requirement under a Public Health Direction. This advice is subject to change. Always refer to the webpage for the latest advice.

You can report a gastroenteritis or ARI outbreak in a residential aged care facility through the ACT Health Outbreak Hub.

Maintain the outbreak line list in the ACT Health Outbreak Hub to record details of all people with symptoms. This form must be updated by midday each day.

In addition, you may also choose to  maintain your own institutional illness register or use the line list for aged care facilities.

Testing during an ARI outbreak

Consult early with a General Practitioner or Nurse Practitioner regarding testing for residents unwell with ARI. All residents with ARI symptoms should be tested for COVID-19 (PCR is preferred) and influenza. Additional respiratory pathogen testing may be done, at the discretion of the clinician.

For more information, see the public health guidance for acute respiratory illnesses in residential aged care facilities.

Infection Control

Limit the spread of infectious diseases by ensuring appropriate infection control practices are adhered to, year-round. Infection control is important to minimise transmission and control outbreaks of gastroenteritis and ARI in aged care facilities. Use effective hand hygiene, isolate unwell residents and exclude unwell staff. Other infection control measures include using personal protective equipment, visitor restrictions, and effective environmental cleaning.

To effectively manage a communicable disease outbreak, you may need to implement additional infection control practices, increase the frequency and efficiency of environmental cleaning using appropriate products, and restrict the movement of residents, staff, and visitors.

For advice about infection control, call the Communicable Disease Control Information Line on 02 5124 9213 and ask to speak to a member of the Infection Control team.

Resources to assist with infection control

Page last updated on: 23 Aug 2023