What is gastroenteritis?
Gastroenteritis, also known as stomach flu, is a common intestinal infection characterized by watery diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, or vomiting, and sometimes a fever.
The most common way to contract gastroenteritis is through contact with an infected person or by consuming contaminated water or food.
You will likely recover without complications if you are healthy. Infants, the elderly, and people with immune systems are most susceptible to gastroenteritis, and the condition may lead to death if not addressed in them.
There is no effective treatment for viral gastroenteritis. So, prevention is essential. In addition to avoiding water and food that could be contaminated, frequent and thorough hand washing is the best defense.
What are the symptoms of gastroenteritis?
- Recurring, bloodless diarrhea
- Abdominal pain and cramps
- Nausea, vomiting, or both
- Occasional muscle pain or headache
- Mild fever
Depending on the cause, symptoms of gastroenteritis may appear within one to three days after infection, and their severity can range from mild to chronic. Symptoms usually only last a day or two, but sometimes up to ten days.
What are the causes of gastroenteritis?
Several viruses can cause gastroenteritis, including:
• Norovirus. It affects both children and adults and is the most common cause of foodborne illness worldwide. In most cases, you contract the virus from contaminated food or water, although it can be transmitted from person to person.
• Rotavirus. This is the most common cause of viral gastroenteritis in children, who usually contract the infection when they put their fingers or other objects contaminated with the virus in their mouths. The infection is more severe in infants and young children. Adults infected with rotavirus may not show any symptoms, but they are still able to spread the disease.
What are the risk factors of gastroenteritis?
People who may be at higher risk of developing gastroenteritis include young children, the elderly, and people with a weak immune system.
How is gastroenteritis diagnosed?
Your doctor will likely diagnose gastroenteritis based on symptoms, a physical examination, and sometimes on the presence of similar conditions in your community. A rapid stool test can detect a rotavirus or norovirus infection, but there are no quick checks for the other viruses that cause gastroenteritis. In some cases, your doctor may request a stool sample to rule out a possible bacterial or parasitic infection.
How is gastroenteritis treated?
There is no specific medical treatment for gastroenteritis. Antibiotics are not effective against viruses, and their frequent use may contribute to the development of strains of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. Treatment primarily consists of self-care measures.
How to prevent gastroenteritis?
Taking the following precautions is considered the best way to prevent gastroenteritis:
- Give your child the rotavirus gastroenteritis vaccine
- Wash your hands well and make sure your children do so as well
- Avoid close contact with anyone who has the infection
- Disinfect all surfaces
- Avoid street foods