Sun | Oct 21, 2018

Dealing with gastroenteritis

Published:Saturday | September 6, 2014 | 12:00 AM

It's getting up to that time of year again for festivities, gifts, colds and flu, and gastro-enteritis. For some reason, in this the cooler time of the year, gastroenteritis is more common.

Doctors' offices, public clinics, and casualty departments at hospitals tend to be filled with these cases. Unfortunately, a few persons, usually young children, die as a result of complications. There are, however, safeguards that can be taken.

Gastroenteritis (GE) literally means an inflammation of the stomach and intestines, which can be caused by many factors, but the focus will be on those resulting from infection. These infections are usually by viruses, bacteria and parasites.

They enter the body through the mouth. This can be via contaminated hands, utensils, plates or the food itself. Some persons get it as a result of travelling to another country and encountering germs they are not usually exposed to.

GE and its complications are more common in younger age groups, overcrowding, and amid poor hygiene.

The main symptoms of GE are vomiting and diarrhoea. However, there may also be abdominal pain, fever, loss of appetite, and bloatedness. In severe and/or serious cases, there may be dehydration as a result of excessive fluid loss, resulting in weakness, drowsiness and even death.

There may also be blood in the stool and/or vomitus. Bacterial GE (which requires medical attention) is more likely to cause severe abdominal pain, fever, and bloody or mucus-filled diarrhoea, while viral GE causes more of a watery vomitus. Viral GE is more common, as it is more contagious, especially the rotavirus.

The chances of GE can be minimised by avoiding bottle-feeding before four months old in an infant, even up to 6 months. Proper hand-washing and food preparation and adequate cleaning of items used during eating are important. Probiotic sources (like yogurt) and supplements can help to prevent and treat GE. There is a vaccine available against the rotavirus.

If GE should occur, dehydration is the main danger. Fluid loss should be mitigated with fluids containing salts, like oral rehydration solution, Pedialyte, coconut water, breast milk, and diluted fruit juices.

Cow's milk should be avoided, but soy milk can be used. Sodas and undiluted fruit juice are best avoided. If any serious symptoms, as listed above, occur, medical attention should be sought. Medications that stop vomiting or diarrhoea should be avoided.

Dr Douglas Street is a general practitioner and has private practices at Trinity Medical Centre, Trinity Mall, at 3 Barnett Street in Montego Bay, and Omega Medical Centre at Plaza de Negril, Negril. Send feedback to