By SALLY GORDON
THOROUGHLY washing your hands with soap after a trip to the toilet and before handling food could protect you from catching a nasty case of gastroenteritis.
State health services are reporting a massive surge in gastroenteritis, which has been attributed to a new virulent strain of the virus.
Assistant director for the North Coast Public Health Unit, Greg Bell, said that while there were no official statistics avail- able to indicate the level of local cases, anecdotal reports suggested gastro had certainly hit the area.
"From reports that have come through from doctors there is definitely a large amount of it going around," Mr Bell said.
"Across the North Coast area we have had a few nursing homes and institutions that have had to take special precautions ... so far however we've had no worries with hospitals.
"Number wise, we haven't had reports of it being more prevalent than what's considered normal, but anecdotally from people ringing up, we know it's really kicking around the place."
A Yamba ambulance officer said the ambulance service had seen a marked increase in the number of people with gastro-related illnesses requiring transportation to hospital for treatment.
NSW Health has reported an alarmingly high level of people over the past five weeks who had been treated for gastroenteritis at emergency departments in Sydney.
Mr Bell said cases in Sydney had been put down to be a particular virus, known as norovi- rus, but on the North Coast gastro strains appeared to be shorter in duration.
He said viral gastroenteritis cases on the North Coast presented symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, fever, abdominal pain, headache and muscle aches.
"Some people are getting just gastro and no vomiting and the other way around," he said.
Mr Bell said people with vomiting and diarrhoea should stay at home until symptoms had passed, avoid food preparation and thoroughly wash hands after using the toilet.