26 January, 2021

Acute Gastroenteritis in the holidays

The holiday season is upon us once again as we approach the end of the year. Hosts and celebrants often flock together to remember and give thanks for the memories and good things they have received throughout the year. During this time, the festivities usually entail gatherings around food and drinks tables, with most people savouring home-made meals and time-tested recipes. However, many food choices often lead to one or two revellers suddenly developing a common condition known as acute gastroenteritis.

What is acute gastroenteritis, and what are its symptoms?

Acute Gastroenteritis is when there is inflammation of the stomach and intestines. The main symptoms of this condition are diarrhoea with or without vomiting. Diarrhoea is defined as the passage of three or more loose or liquid stools per day, or more frequent passage than is usual for the individual. 

Different organisms can cause Acute Gastroenteritis.

Acute Gastroenteritis can be caused by a variety of organisms, including viruses (Rotavirus, Norwalk virus), bacteria (Salmonella, Shigella), and parasites (Giardia, Entamoeba). These disease-causing pathogens are usually transmitted through the ingestion of contaminated food or water or from one person to another due to poor hygiene practices. Viruses generally cause diarrhoea that is otherwise not severe conditions and can be self-limiting. In contrast, bacteria and parasites can cause bloody diarrhoea, indicating the onset of damage to the intestinal wall.

Acute Gastroenteritis

Most cases can be managed at home.

For most people, acute gastroenteritis is not a severe illness and can be managed at home, as long as the affected person can tolerate fluids intake. Home management is also possible if the individual has no underlying condition that may worsen the disease and if the individual does not manifest severe complications due to the persistence of diarrhoea. Particular subgroups of the population may also be more prone to developing more severe manifestations, such as young children, the elderly, the immunocompromised, and persons who may not take care of themselves (differently-abled). 

With that said, fluid replacement therapy is the cornerstone of the management of gastroenteritis. The intake of oral rehydration solutions must correct the loss of fluids and electrolytes from the excess passage of stool and its associated secretions. These are usually sold as sachet powders, which may be dissolved in a specific amount of clean or distilled water, or as pre-formulated solutions in bottles, especially for children. When rehydrating, it is essential to remember to do it slowly to prevent the occurrence of vomiting. Affected persons may also benefit from consuming soft and easily digestible food such as porridge, crackers, and soup. Lastly, it would be best to avoid eating spicy and oily food to prevent further irritating the gastrointestinal tract.

When to go to the hospital

The significant complications of acute gastroenteritis are dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. Dehydration is the state of the body where there is a disruption of the average fluid balance resulting from massive loss of liquids, leading to hemodynamic abnormalities and cardiovascular complications.

When managing acute gastroenteritis at home, some of the symptoms to watch out for include: having a weak and thready pulse, altered sense of consciousness, cold and clammy skin, and in some instances, development of fever and weakness in the upper and lower extremities. When these signs develop, it would be best to seek medical attention immediately. Also, if diarrhoea and vomiting are noted to become progressively worse, or the symptoms persist, it would be wise to seek treatment at the hospital or urgent clinic.

Acute Gastroenteritis is preventable

Since this condition is transmitted mainly through the ingestion of contaminated food and water, the best way to prevent acute gastroenteritis is by making sure that food is prepared, stored, and served hygienically. Food should be properly cooked to ensure the inactivation of most infectious pathogens and their particles.

Frequent and proper handwashing is also one of the proven ways of preventing food-borne illnesses. Pathogens may find their way onto the hands of either cooks and diners after using the bathroom, changing diapers, or even when touching high contact surfaces and objects.

Lastly, when caring for a person with acute gastroenteritis or being affected by it, it’s prudent to avoid food preparation and shake hands or exchange greetings with friends and family.

Celebrate responsibly

The holiday season is a time for friends and family to gather and celebrate wonderful things that have happened throughout the year. These gatherings involve food most of the time. Thus hosts of the festivities must always keep in mind ensuring the safety and well-being of all celebrants. 

Cooks and those involved in the preparation of food items should observe proper hygiene at all times. And lastly, revellers must remember to practice frequent hand washing and to use alcohol-based hand rubs whenever soap and water are not available. By doing so, we can all sit back, relax, and enjoy the holidays.

REFERENCES:

  1. Controlling the Spread of Infections|Health and Safety Concerns. Published 2019. https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/disease/infectevac.html
  2. World Health Organization: WHO. Diarrhoea, Diarrhoeal diseases, diarrhea, acute watery diarrhoea. Who.int. Published August 27, 2018. Accessed December 12, 2020. https://www.who.int/westernpacific/health-topics/diarrhoea

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