Gastroenteritis is an inflammation of the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, particularly the stomach and intestines. The result is three to seven days of suffering and diarrhoea which in turn causes dehydration.
Gastroenteritis is caused by an infection, which is usually viral. Bacterial causes are less common, but tend to be more severe and include Campylobacter, Shigella and E. coli infections. The infections are transmitted through contact with an infected person, poor hygiene and contaminated food or drink.
“Normally, gastroenteritis is contracted in summer and dry periods. Also, after heavy rainfall, untreated water can become a vector for the disease. At times, the virus is transmitted by hands. This is why it is important not to keep long nails, especially those who cook food,” explains Dr. Farhad Peerally, General Medicine.
This is why the best precaution to avoid gastroenteritis is to keep the hands clean by frequently washing the hands with clean water and soap, especially after visiting the toilets and before eating. He adds that those who are not eating home-made food but eating in restaurants among others are more prone to getting the virus. “This is because outside the food gets easily contaminated. However, home-made food eaten in the open can also get contaminated and cause gastroenteritis” he says.
Gastroenteritis affects all age groups, but children take longer to recover since their immune system is not fully developed and often, they refuse to take medicines. Small babies are especially at risk of dehydration.
The symptoms include diarrhoea, vomiting, refusal of feeds (babies), and loss of appetite (older children), fever, abdominal pains, lethargy and drowsiness. Dr. Peerally points out that not all symptoms come at the same time. It usually starts with fever and vomiting and only after one to four days that the diarrhoea starts.
He adds that no anti-viral medicines exist and that the ailment will run its course of three to seven days. Dr. Peerally underscores that anti-diarrhoea medicines should not be taken to treat gastroenteritis for this has been prohibited by the World Health Organisation. This is because the anti-diarrhoea medicines retain the virus in the body of the patient, thus prolonging the ailment.
Instead, the symptoms are treated that is, fever and abdominal pains. Gastroenteritis causes the loss of water a thus leading to dehydration. To rehydrate the patients, they are given serum via oral treatment. These serums are also available in pharmacies. Children who refuse to take serum orally are given through intravenous injections. Dr. Peerally advises people to drink boiled water to avoid the risk of getting the virus for gastroenteritis.
Precautions to be taken
- Boil water before consumption
- Wash hands regularly with water and soap
- Do not eat food which have been kept for a long time
- Thoroughly wash fruits and vegetables
- Do not eat damaged fruits and those found on the ground
- Cover food to avoid contamination by insects
- Ensure that there is no accumulation of water on the roofs
- Properly cover water tanks to avoid mosquito proliferation
- Discard objects that can become a breeding place for mosquitoes(used tyres, used cans, domestic waste)
- Throw away excess water found in flower pots
- Discard fallen leaves
- Avoid mosquito bites