Gastro Warning

Reporter: James Thomas

Australia is in the grip of a gastro outbreak .. and its effects are severe.

Named Norovirus - public health officials like Professor Mark Ferson are worried.

University of NSW Professor Peter White discovered the virus in March last year. Since its appearance there's been a 400 percent increase in cases in Victoria.

"We do know from its genetic makeup that it is a combination of two viruses. One from an ancestor of a dutch virus the other one from a japanese virus discovered in 2007." Said Peter White

It strikes rapidly .. one minute you can feel fine the next you'll experience some dizziness and before you know it you'll have nuseas, stomach cramps, diorrhoea and vomiting.

400,000 Australians are expected to be struck down this winter and it hasn't stopped here.

1.2 million Britons have been infected by the virus. Hospital wards and childcare centres have closed - nursing homes are on high alert.

Teams of British health officials have even created this vomiting robot to try and understand how to prevent more people being exposed to the severe projectile vomiting that can occur without warning.

Professor Ferson says places like this (look back at cruise ship) are the perfect incubators for a pandemic. Thousands of people eating from the same restaurants, breathing the same air. The ship, becomes a floating petrie dish...

And when she pulls into a new port, passengers disembark to infect a new population...

"It can affect anyone. The people that are particularly vulnerable are the frail elderly. Particularly in nursing homes and very young children may be affected." Said Mark Ferson

"There have been some fatalities linked to this infection usually in elderly people who have lots of other problems." Said Mark Ferson

Work on a vaccine is under way but at present none exists... Personal Hygiene is crucial.

"Anyone with diarrhoea or vomiting needs to be careful about washing hands.

Stay away from people. And try and stay away from work for a day or two after you recover because we know the virus is still there... " Said Mark Ferson