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Credit: elderlycare.net

Elderly residents of nursing homes in SA are at risk of contracting the highly deadly rotavirus.

Outbreaks of highly infectious gastroenteritis at six nursing homes has called health authorities to investigate last month, finding 110 people infected, of which 38 infected persons were from the same location.

South Australia has up to 527 reported cases of rotavirus this year, a serious spike of 56 per cent compared to a total of 338 cases reported the same period last year.

Rotavirus is highly contagious and it infects the bowel and has been known to be the most common cause of severe diarrhoea in children.

In the young people as well as the elderly, it is known to cause severe dehydration which requires immediate hospitalization.

The spread of infection from rotavirus is through contaminated hands, food, and water or objects that carry traces of infected faeces.

Dr Andrew Lavender, state president of the Australian Medical Association said outbreaks of gastroenteritis were common in aged care.

He further stated that when outbreaks occur in nursing homes, it is due to the breakdown of the infection control measures - which is the reason why hand-washing and strict management protocols are vital.

The rotavirus vaccination was listed as part of the immunization schedule for infants aged two, four and six months old three year previously. To date, there is no vaccination for adults.

Back in 2007, there were a total of 10,000 hospital admissions of children below five years of age due to infection with rotavirus, Australia-wide.

Dr Stephen Christley, chief public health officer of SA Health said it was common to have an increase of rotavirus cases during winter.

The significant spike in cases, according to Dr Christley could be partly due to higher reporting of the cases by doctors, as there was no requirement to report rotavirus, till 2008.

In SA, the reported cases of rotavirus would still represent only the tip of the iceberg as most people with gastrointestinal conditions either fail to see a doctor of fail to submit a stool sample for analysis.

Paul Carberry, chief executive of Aged Care Association Australia (SA) said the nursing care staffs are working hard to limit the spread of infection without causing too much unease for the elderly residents.

He said those infected will be moved if they're in a shared room, monitored closely and sent to the hospital if it's required.