Gastroenteritis: All You Need to Know
Gastroenteritis is an inflammation/irritation of the gastrointestinal tract (the pathway responsible for digestion that includes the mouth, oesophagus, stomach, and intestines). Gastroenteritis is majorly caused by a viral or bacterial infection and not an influenza.
Who is at risk for gastroenteritis?
Anyone can get the disease. People who are at a higher risk include:
• Children in day-care
• Students living in dormitories
• Military personnel
People with immune systems that are weakened by disease or medications or not fully developed (i.e., infants) are usually affected most severely
What causes gastroenteritis?
As stated earlier, gastroenteritis can be caused by viral, bacterial, or parasitic infections. Viral gastroenteritis is contagious and is responsible for the majority of outbreaks in developed countries.
Common routes of infection include:
• Food (especially seafood)
• Contaminated water
• Contact with an infected person
• Unwashed hands
• Dirty utensils
In less developed countries, gastroenteritis is more often spread through contaminated food or water.
Actually, the most common cause of gastroenteritis is a virus. Many types of viruses can be responsible for the flu but the main types are rotavirus and norovirus.
Also, often times, bacteria such as E.coli and salmonella can also trigger the stomach flu.
Another bacteria, shigela, is often passed from one child to another in day-care centres; especially through contaminated food and water.
Another way to contact gastroenteritis is through parasite (very rare and uncommon) as giardia. You can pick them up from contaminated swimming pools.
Other unusual ways to get gastroenteritis are:
1. Heavy metals (arsenic, cadmium, lead, or mercury) in drinking water.
2. Eating a lot of acidic foods like citrus foods and tomatoes.
3. Medications such as antibiotics, antacids, laxatives, and chemotherapy drugs.
What are the symptoms of gastroenteritis?
The main symptom of gastroenteritis is diarrhea. When the colon (large intestine) becomes infected during gastroenteritis, it loses its ability to retain fluids, which causes the person’s faeces to become loose or watery. Other symptoms include:
• Abdominal pain or cramping
• Poor feeding (in infants)
• Unintentional weight loss (may be a sign of dehydration)
• Excessive sweating
• Clammy skin
• Muscle pain or joint stiffness
• Incontinence (loss of stool control)
Because of the symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea, people who have gastroenteritis can become dehydrated quickly. It is very important to watch for signs of dehydration, which include:
• Extreme thirst
• Urine that is darker in color, or less in amount
• Dry skin
• Dry mouth
• Sunken cheeks or eyes
• In infants, dry diapers (for more than 4-6 hours)
- Management of Gastroenteritis
There are three ways to manage the stomach flu which are:
• Palliative method
• Dietary approach.
palliative method: involves fluid replacement, oral rehydration therapy, intravenous therapy.
medications like antibiotics and antidiarrheal drugs are administered during gastroenteritis. Examples are loperamide hydrochloride, acetaminophen, zinc supplements
Dietary approaches involves some restrictions like staying off tea and caffeine, staying of hot and spicy foods (bland diet), dairy foods, sugar, soda, gluten, artificial sweeteners. Some research suggests that the BRAT diet (banana, rice, applesauce and toast), could help in treating the stomach flu. Taking of probiotics (plain unsweetened yoghurt).
It is important to practise good hygiene in order to stay away from stomach flu; food safety is also of the essence. Make it a habit to always wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating them, make sure you boil meats and other animal products very well before consumption, wash your hands during preparation of meals and after using the toilet.