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Gastro cases soar in Jamaica

Published:Thursday | March 4, 2010 | 12:00 AM

AS THE number of gastro-enteritis cases continues to climb across the island, the Ministry of Health is insisting that persons observe good hygiene practices to help stem the spread of the illness.

A whopping 3,890 cases of gastro-enteritis were reported as at the end of January, reflecting a 30 per cent increase compared to last year. Of the number of cases this year, 2,019 have occurred in children under five years old.

The ministry urged administrators of childcare and education facilities to send home children immediately if they are experiencing symptoms of gastro-enteritis.

"Children should be given the recommended fluids while being prepared to be sent home. If they exhibit signs of dehydration, frequent stools or vomiting, caregivers should seek urgent medical attention," the ministry stated in a release this week.

The ministry further noted that parents and caregivers should keep children at home until all symptoms have cleared up completely.

The symptoms include vomiting, diarrhoea or running belly, fever and stomach gripes.

"Gastro-enteritis is easily spread from person to person and so, to prevent other children being affected, those with symptoms should be sent home immediately and stay home for the entire period of illness," said chief medical officer at the ministry, Dr Sheila Campbell Forrester.

Spread by germs

Gastro-enteritis is spread by germs in the air, water or food and on dirty hands or utensils, the ministry has indicated.

"Parents have a responsibility to ensure good hygiene practices among children. Teach them to wash their hands properly and regularly. Parents and school or day-care administrators should also ensure that toys and other tools, especially those that are shared with other children, are properly and frequently cleaned," Campbell Forrester urged.

The ministry encouraged individuals who display symptoms of gastro-enteritis to drink lots of fluids to prevent dehydration, which can lead to death. Recommended fluids include oral rehydration fluid, coconut water, diluted fruit juice or plain boiled water. Young babies should be breastfed.