The public is being urged yet again to take every possible precaution to prevent the spread of gastroenteritis and its complications.

This plea comes from the Ministry of Health, in the wake of an increasing trend of gastro (as it is commonly referred to) cases, over the past few weeks.????????????????????????????????

Statistics from the Accident and Emergency Department of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) and the island’s eight polyclinics revealed that for the four-week period ending February 13, 2010, there were 137 cases of gastro as compared to 82 for the previous four-week period ending January 16, 2010.

This rise in the number of cases has prompted medical officials in the Ministry to call for safer health practices to be used by those who prepare, handle or sell food.

Additionally, the simple washing of hands with soap has been recommended for both adults and children, before and after eating a meal, as well as after using the bathroom.

Other actions which health officials have recommended include cleaning and disinfecting kitchen surfaces, particularly when working with raw meat or eggs, and keeping these items and poultry separate from foods that are eaten raw.

It is also important to disinfect toilets after use and dispose of soiled diapers and clothing when caring for a child or sick adult.

The Health Ministry has advised that persons experiencing a sudden onset of diarrhoea, with or without fever and three or more loose stools or watery stools within a 24 hour period, with or without dehydration and, vomiting (with evidence of blood) should seek prompt medical attention, and should either go to a private doctor or to the nearest polyclinic. Individuals should also drink clear fluids, for example water or clear soup, but not fruit juices, since these may exacerbate the illness.

Health officials have further stated that "over-the-counter" (self-prescribed) anti-diarrhoeal medications should not be taken as they may prolong the course of illness.

Gastroenteritis is an inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract (the pathway responsible for digestion that includes the mouth, oesophagus, stomach and intestines). Gastroenteritis has many causes; with viruses and bacteria being the most common.

The symptoms of this illness include diarrhoea, abdominal pain or cramping, nausea with or without vomiting and low grade fever (99 degrees Fahrenheit).?? More

serious symptoms include blood in vomit or stool, vomiting for more than 48 hours and fever higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit.

The symptoms of vomiting and diarrhoea can lead to severe loss of body fluids that can result in dehydration – a complication of gastroenteritis that is particularly dangerous in young children and the elderly. Signs of dehydration include extreme thirst, urine that is darker in color, dry skin, dry mouth, sunken cheeks or eyes and rapid weight loss. ??The diapers of infants may also be drier than normal.

Gastroenteritis can be spread through the use of contaminated food or water, failure to wash hands frequently and properly, as well as by using dirty utensils.

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