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Southern NSW Local Health District (SNSWLHD) is urging people to take care when handling food following an increase in the number of cases of gastroenteritis caused by Campylobacter bacteria in the last week.

April Witteveen, Manager of Infectious Diseases for SNSLWHD, said that as we come into the warmer summer weather, the number of cases of gastroenteritis caused by bacteria tends to increase. Campylobacter is one of the most common causes of bacterial gastroenteritis in Australia.

Last week 26 people in SNSWLHD were notified with Campylobacter, compared to 14 at the same time in 2019. The Public Health Unit are investigating if there are any links between recent cases or any shared sources of infection.

Ms Witteveen said bacterial gastroenteritis was often spread by consuming contaminated food or water, or sometimes through direct contact with an infected person. “Campylobacter is frequently associated with the consumption of contaminated poultry” she said. “It is important to ensure all chicken is thoroughly cooked through before eating.”

“The best defence against Campylobacter is to wash hands immediately after handling raw poultry and before handling any cooked or ready-to-eat foods. Thoroughly wash hands with soap and running water for at least 10 seconds before handling and eating food.”

Storage of foods at the right temperature reduces the risk of bacterial gastro. Refrigerated food should be kept at less than 5 degrees Celsius and hot foods should be kept above 60 degrees Celsius. Ms Witteveen remarked “the longer food is left at room temperature, the more bacteria will grow. The rule of thumb is that if food has been sitting on a table for more
than 2 hours, it should be thrown out.”

Symptoms of Campylobacter include diarrhoea, fever and abdominal pain that can last for one to two weeks. It can take up to five days for symptoms to develop after unwittingly ingesting bacteria. People whose work involves handling food or looking after children, the elderly or patients should not work while they have any symptoms.

The main treatment for bacterial gastroenteritis is to rest and drink plenty of fluids. Sometimes, doctors may recommend a rehydration solution. Most people recover without complications. Anyone recovering from gastroenteritis should avoid visiting hospitals and aged care facilities to avoid spreading the infection to vulnerable people.
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Last updated: 22 December 2020