What is gastroenteritis?
Gastroenteritis or stomach flu is a contagious inflammation of the stomach and intestines (gastrointestinal tract) caused by viruses and bacteria.
With symptoms like vomiting and fever diarrhea, abdominal pain, low energy, and dehydration. Usually, this feeling may last for two weeks or less.
Parasites and fungus can also cause you to have this infectious sickness, although not common. This viral or bacterial infection caused illness is deadly and can easily be contracted by both adults and children. Read along to understand how you can get stomach flu.
How do I contract gastroenteritis?
You can easily contract or catch stomach flu as it is highly contagious. It spread very easily from person to person and this is because of the bug that causes it.
Little particles of vomit or feaces (poo) from an infected person can make you have the infection and this is made possible through:
Close contact with an infected person(s) – for example, if a person(s) with gastroenteritis exhales (breathe out) around you, they may have small particles of vomit released which may get you infected.
Also, if you shake hands with someone who has the virus and has been sick, you are likely to be infected. This is because the person may have at some point touched body parts with the hands or even visit the toilet – thus infecting the hands.
Touching contaminated objects or surfaces – An object or surface (eg beddings, doorknobs, keys, phones and many more) that have been exposed to an infected person vomit or faeces can get you infected.
So, it is important to wash body parts (especially the hands) thoroughly and regularly after using the bathroom. Also, follow this hygiene behavior before and after contacting with objects or surface(s) to avoid being infected.
Consuming contaminated food or water – the food or water you consume can get contaminated. This happens when a person with gastroenteritis handles them without washing hands properly. In addition, when food isn’t stored, handled, or cooked properly, it may also get it contaminated.
READ ALSO: how foods get contaminated (food poisoning)
Note that an individual with stomach flu or diarrhea infection is highly infectious from when symptoms begin until 48 hours. It is believed that symptoms at this period have improved but infection may continue for a short time after recovery.
Virus is the most common cause of gastroenteritis. Usually, it’s referred to as viral gastroenteritis when the outbreaks affect groups of people at the same time and place. Norovirus and rotavirus are the main types of viruses that can cause stomach flu.
In the U.S, norovirus is the most common cause of severe gastroenteritis and foodborne disease outbreaks that affects both adults and children. While rotavirus is known to be the main cause of diarrhea in infants and young children.
However, stomach flu can also be caused by a bacterial infection(such as E. coli, campylobacter, and salmonella ). These bacterial infections are commonly spread by live poultry, pets (reptiles), eggs, undercooked poultry, or poultry juice.
Aside from the already mentioned bacteria, shigella specifically can easily be passed around especially in daycare centers. Food and drinking water are common sources of this infection. Therefore make sure your kids’ foods are well cooked and made in a clean environment.
Although it’s not common, parasites like giardia and cryptosporidium can also trigger gastroenteritis( diarrhea and dehydration). They’re often found in places that have dirty water. Swimming in such areas or drinking from such water can give you stomach flu. Thus, drink bottled water instead, if you are a traveler.
Other ways you can get gastroenteritis is “if” you:
- Drink water that has heavy metals in it.
- Take certain medications( such as antibiotics, chemotherapy drugs, etc).
- Consume too many foods high in acids such as tomatoes, and citrus fruit.
- Consume seafood infected with toxins.
Symptoms of Gastroenteritis
Stomach flu is different from influenza although people sometimes mistake one for the other. Influenza ( also known as real flu ) only attacks the respiratory system. Which includes the nose, throat, and lungs.
While gastroenteritis affects your digestive system —intestines and stomach. Signs and symptoms include:
- Watery diarrhea with no blood — People with serious infection cases are likely to have bloody diarrhea and should see a doctor or gastroenterologist.
- Cramps and pain in the abdomen
- Irregular pain in your muscles or head
- Minor feverish feeling
- Low energy
- Regular dehydration
If you get infected with gastroenteritis, symptoms may become noticeable after a day or at most three days. In most cases, this may be dependent on the cause. Symptoms can be mild at first and then gradually become severe. It usually lasts no longer than two days. Although in some cases (rarely) symptoms may last till 10 days.
Who is at risk of having gastroenteritis?
- Infants and children with a premature immune system.
- Older people with low performing immune systems.
- School children such as those in daycare, boarding homes or colleges.
- People who have a weak immune system, (such as HIV/AIDS patients)
- Those using chemotherapy drugs
- Tourists or Travellers.
- Those that worship in various religious centers
When to see your doctor
Children and infants — should visit a doctor if they:
- Have a high fever of about 102 F (38.9 C) or above.
- Seems lethargic or very irritable
- Are having regular discomfort or aches
- Have diarrhea with blood traces
- Are always dehydrated (drinking too much water than they used to)
- Urinate frequently than normal — This is also a sign of dehydration. Sick infants and children show this symptom as well.
- Vomit regularly.
Spitting up daily for babies or infants is absolutely normal. But this is not so in case of babies — vomiting. If your baby throws up often, consider seeking medical help to avoid complications.
Parent(s) should also, seek medical attention if:
- Child vomits concurrently for several hours
- It’s up to or more than six hours your baby had a wet diaper
- Baby’s stool has blood in it
- Baby has severe diarrhea
- Baby cries without tears or has a dry mouth
- Child has a sunken soft spot (fontanel)on the head top
- Baby unusually feels sleepy, unresponsive or drowsy
Aside from infants and children, adults should consequently consider seeing a doctor or a gastroenterologist if they are:
- Vomiting blood
- Vomiting for a longer period of time (more than two days)
- Unable to do without liquids for 24 hours
- Passing out bloody stools
- Having a fever that is above 104 F (40 C)
- Being excessively thirsty
- Having a dry mouth
- Passing out deep yellow urine
- Having difficulty urinating
- Feeling excessively weak or dizzy.
Because the symptoms are similar, it’s easy to confuse viral diarrhea with diarrhea caused by bacteria, such as Clostridium difficile, salmonella and E. coli, or parasites, such as giardia.
Safety tips for travelers
If you like traveling or you are an adventurous person, be extremely conscious of your safety when you visit new places. Mind what and how you eat to avoid consuming contaminated food or water. Moreover, you can control or reduce the risk of catching stomach flu with the following tips:
- Ensure water is properly sealed and bottled before drinking
- Avoid eating raw meat or fish as they may be contaminated.
- Ice cubes may be made from contaminated water — avoid it.
- Brush teeth with only bottled water.
- Do not eat raw foods (such as peeled fruits and raw vegetables) prepared or touched by humans’ hands.
How do you prevent gastroenteritis?
Preventing the spread of stomach or intestinal infections is possible with the following steps:
A vaccine that attacks gastroenteritis caused by rotavirus is available in some countries including Australia and the United States. Children who receive this vaccine in the first year of their life are less likely to develop gastroenteritis symptoms. Find out from your health care provider if the vaccine is available and get your child vaccinated.
Maintain proper hygiene
Wash your hands and that of your children thoroughly. Teach your children how to wash their hands after using objects or toilets. If your children are younger, wash for them. Ask their teachers or other caregivers to do the same for them always as you’ll not be there. It’s best to wash with soap and warm water. Apply soap on hands and rub for 20 seconds or more, extend to the cuticles and under fingernails. Afterward, rinse thoroughly and dry. Have sanitizing wipes or hand sanitizer handy in case soap and water are not available.
Avoid keeping close contact
It is better you keep your distance, that way getting infected may be difficult.
Disinfect hard surfaces in your home
It is important you disinfect all hard surfaces around you. Your chances of contracting the infection from anyone with the virus reduce once successfully done. Add 2 cups (0.47 liters) of bleach to 1 gallon (3.8 liters) of water and mix evenly. Use the mixture to disinfect surfaces like counters, faucets, and doorknobs including toilet seats.
Personalize your items
Sharing eating utensils (spoon, fork, drinking glasses, etc) should be discouraged. Have your own body or hand towels and make sure you sun-dry them often.
Ensure the center has separate rooms for changing diapers, preparing or serving foods. Source
ALSO READ: How to prevent Gastro in daycare