A gastroenteritis outbreak has prompted an appeal from the head of Tauranga Hospital's Emergency Department.

A number of Emergency Department (ED) staff members have had to take sick leave over the past four days after being infected by patients attending the department with mild gastroenteritis.

ED clinical director Dr Derek Sage said the situation was affecting staffing levels at the department's busiest time of the year.

"We are asking those with mild cases of gastroenteritis to please stay away from the ED. We are too many patients with mild symptoms attending over this Christmas period; approximately five-to-eight cases per day for the past four days. The patients we are seeing are predominately in the 20 to 35-year-old age bracket.


"People are presenting with minor cases that do not require emergency healthcare and exposing other patients and staff to unnecessary risk. Most cases of gastroenteritis do not require treatment and the symptoms will improve after a few days. It is very unusual for those who have had symptoms for less than 24 hours to require ED treatment."

Gastroenteritis is an infection of the gut (intestines). The severity can range from a stomach upset for a day or two with some mild diarrhoea, to severe diarrhoea and vomiting for several days or longer. Many viruses, bacteria and other microbes (germs) can cause gastroenteritis. The majority of cases are viral.

Dr Sage said a combination of poor food hygiene and variable weather conditions had presented the perfect conditions for a gastroenteritis outbreak.

"People frequently do not pay attention to proper food storage and handling practices and this poor food hygiene added to the climatic conditions at this time of the year means outbreaks are not uncommon."

Dr Sage said in many gastroenteritis cases it was possible, and preferable, to self-treat symptoms. He added that personal hygiene, especially handwashing, was very important in order to prevent its spread throughout the household.

For advice on gastroenteritis people were advised to contact their GP, call Healthline NZ on 0800 611 116, Kaitiaki Nursing on 07 571 0144, or Accident & HealthCare Medical Centre, in Second Avenue, Tauranga, on 07 577 0010.

Gastroenteritis symptoms

The main symptom is diarrhoea, often with vomiting as well. Diarrhoea means loose or watery stools (faeces), usually at least three times in 24 hours. Blood or mucus can appear in the stools with some infections.
Crampy pains in your abdomen are common. Pains may ease for a while each time you pass some diarrhoea.
A high temperature (fever), headache and aching limbs sometimes occur.
If vomiting occurs, it often lasts only a day or so, but sometimes longer.
Diarrhoea often continues after the vomiting stops and commonly lasts for several days or more. Slightly loose stools may persist for a week or so further before a normal pattern returns. Sometimes the symptoms last longer.

Dehydration is the main complication of gastroenteritis. Mild dehydration is reversible by drinking more water.

Signs of severe dehydration include: greatly reduced urine output and thirst (reduced wet nappies in infants); llethargy; confusion; weakness; irritability in young children; dry mouth; inability to produce tears in children.

Those at risk of severe dehydration include:

Elderly or frail people/chemotherapy patients
Those on diuretics or with kidney problems
Pregnant women
The very young

Seek medical attention if any of the above signs of severe dehydration are experienced, if blood and slime is present in the stool, or if blood is vomited.

Self-help Treatment in Mild Gastroenteritis Cases

If you have gastroenteritis, it is very important to replace any fluids that your body loses through vomiting and diarrhoea.

Drink at least two litres of water a day, plus 200ml of water every time you pass diarrhoea.
If you vomit, wait five-10 minutes and then start drinking again, but more slowly. For example, a sip every two-three minutes, but making sure your total intake is as described above.
Oral rehydration salts are recommended for people who are vulnerable to the effects of dehydration, such as elderly people or those with another existing condition. Oral rehydration salts are available in sachets from pharmacies. They help replace salt, glucose and other important minerals that your body loses during dehydration.
Soup is a useful rehydration fluid.
Eat as normally as possible. 
Over-the-counter loperamide is a useful treatment to deal with excessive diarrhoea but not to be used if a fever of 38.5C is present. Your pharmacist can advise.
Personal hygiene, especially handwashing, is important in order to prevent the spread of gastroenteritis throughout the household.