The public is being urged yet again to take every possible precaution to prevent gastroenteritis and its associated complications from occurring.
This plea has come from the Ministry of Health in the wake of a significant number of gastro (as it is commonly referred to) cases, so far this year.
Statistics from the Accident and Emergency Department of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) and the island’s eight polyclinics reveal that from January 4 to February 7, there were 256 cases as compared with 182 cases for the same period last year.
This rise in gastro 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 bathroom facilities.
Other actions which health officials have recommended include cleaning and disinfecting kitchen surfaces, particularly when working with raw meat or eggs, and keeping raw meat, eggs 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.
A person with a sudden onset of diarrhoea, with or without fever and experiencing three or more loose stools or watery stools within a 24-hour period, with or without dehydration, as well as vomiting (with evidence of blood) should seek prompt medical attention, and should either see a private doctor or go to the nearest polyclinic. Individuals should also drink clear fluids, for example water or clear soup. However, fruit juices are not recommended since they may exacerbate the illness.
Health officials have further advised that “over-the-counter” (self-prescribed) anti-diarrhoeal medications should not be taken since they may prolong the course of the 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 common 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 a fever that is higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit.
The symptoms of vomiting and diarrhoea can lead to severe loss of body fluids resulting in dehydration – a complication of gastroenteritis that is particularly dangerous for 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. In infants, their diapers may be drier than normal.
Gastroenteritis can spread through the use of contaminated food or water; failure to wash hands frequently and properly, as well as through the use of dirty utensils.