Gastroenteritis Alert

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The Ministry of Health has indicated that while surveillance for gastroenteritis has so far this year not detected an increase in levels of above what is expected, it has received reports of a number of severe cases, particularly among persons over the age of 60.

Gastroenteritis is an infection of the lining of the digestive tract with symptoms that include nausea and vomiting, diarrhoea (loose or watery stools at least three times in 24 hours), stomach pain, low fever, headache, muscle aches, chills and tiredness.

The most serious complication is dehydration or a depletion of fluid in the body.  This may be especially dangerous in young children, elderly persons and those with an underlying health problem such as diabetes, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease and kidney disease.

Severe dehydration should be treated as an emergency and immediate medical attention should be sought. The signs and symptoms of dehydration may include increased thirst, dry mouth, swollen tongue, weakness, confusion, sluggishness, fainting, an inability to sweat and decreased urine output.  Mild dehydration, however, is usually easily reversed by drinking lots of fluids.

Gastroenteritis may be caused by viruses, bacteria or other microorganisms.  Persons are, therefore, reminded that hand washing is the most effective way to prevent infection.  The Ministry of Health advises people to wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water, rubbing vigorously and for at least 20 seconds:  after using the toilet; after having episodes of diarrhoea or vomiting; after changing diapers; after touching any stool‑soiled or vomit-soiled materials, toilets, or surfaces; before handling food or drink; after cleaning up vomit or diarrhoea from someone who is ill with gastroenteritis; and before eating. 

lisa.bayley@barbados.gov.bb

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