What is Gastroenteritis?
Gastroenteritis is an intestinal infection characterized by diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea or vomiting, and sometimes fever. Gastroenteritis is also often referred to as the stomach flu, as it can develop through contact with an infected person and if you ingest contaminated food or drink.
If you are healthy, you will likely recover from gastroenteritis without complications. However, for infants, older adults, and people with weak immune systems, gastroenteritis can lead to dehydration and death.
It is advised to always prevent gastroenteritis, as there is no effective treatment for this intestinal infection. Preventing gastroenteritis can be done by avoiding food and drinks that may be contaminated with viruses or bacteria, and washing your hands regularly with soap.
Contact a gastroenterologist if you have symptoms of gastroenteritis to get the right treatment.
Causes of Gastroenteritis
You have higher risk to contract gastroenteritis virus if you consume contaminated food or beverages, or if you share cutlery, towels or food with an infected person. A number of viruses can cause gastroenteritis, including:
Children and adults are at risk of exposure to norovirus, which is the most common cause of food-borne illness worldwide. Norovirus infection can spread through contact with a family member and other infected people. This virus is very likely to spread among people in confined spaces.
In most cases, you may contract the virus from contaminated food or drink, although transmission from person to person may also occur.
Rotavirus is the most common cause of gastroenteritis in children. The infection can occur if a child inserts his or her fingers or other objects contaminated with the virus into their mouth.
The most severe infections occur in infants and young children. Adults infected with rotavirus may have no symptoms but can pass on the disease to others. Vaccines against gastroenteritis virus are available in several countries and seem to be effective in preventing infection.
Certain types of shellfish, such as raw or under-cooked oysters, also put you at risk of gastroenteritis. In most cases, the virus can be transmitted through the fecal-oral route, which is when someone who is infected with the virus processes the food you eat without washing their hands after using the toilet.
When to See a Doctor for Gastroenteritis
Consult a gastroenterologist if you have symptoms of gastroenteritis. Your doctor will diagnose gastroenteritis based on your symptoms, physical examination, and identify your condition with similar cases in your area.
Fecal exam can help detect rotavirus or norovirus, but there is no simple test for other viruses that cause gastroenteritis. In some cases, your doctor may ask you to send a stool sample to assess your chances of being infected with bacteria or parasites.
Although it is rare, parasites can also cause gastroenteritis. You can contract organisms such as giardia and cryptosporidium in contaminated swimming pools or by drinking contaminated water.
Symptoms of Gastroenteritis
Gastroenteritis is not the same as influenza despite being called stomach flu. Influenza affects only your respiratory system, such as the nose, throat and lungs, while gastroenteritis attacks your intestines.
Symptoms of gastroenteritis can appear within 1 to 3 days after you are infected and can range from mild to severe, depending on the cause. Symptoms of gastroenteritis usually last for 1 or 2 days, but can sometimes last up to 10 days.
Be aware of the following symptoms:
- Watery, bloodless diarrhea. Bloody diarrhea usually indicates the presence of other more severe infections.
- Mild fever.
- Cramps and abdominal pain.
- Nausea, vomiting, or both.
- Muscle aches or occasional headaches.
Treatment for Gastroenteritis
In general, there is no specific medical treatment to treat gastroenteritis. Antibiotics are considered ineffective against viruses and excessive use can actually trigger the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. Your doctor may suggest you undergo self-treatment.
Treatment Cost for Gastroenteritis
Treatment cost for gastroenteritis varies greatly depending on the medication prescribed by your doctor and your choice of hospital.
To calculate the estimated treatment cost for gastroenteritis at home and abroad, contact Smarter Health.
Prevention of Gastroenteritis
To protect yourself from the gastroenteritis virus and minimize its spread, apply the following ways to prevent gastroenteritis:
- If possible, maintain your distance to prevent close contact with anyone infected with the virus.
- Use personal items separately. Avoid sharing cutlery, glasses, and plates. Also avoid using towels with other family members.
- If someone with gastroenteritis lives at your house, disinfect furniture surfaces in the home, such as countertops, taps, and door handles, with a mixture of 2 cups (0.47 liters) of bleach and 1 gallon (3.8 liters) of water.
- Be sure to get the vaccination for your child, as there is a vaccine against gastroenteritis caused by rotavirus. Vaccines are usually given to children of age 1. This is because the vaccines appear to be effective in preventing the severe symptoms of gastroenteritis.
- Make sure your daycare has separate rooms for changing diapers and preparing or serving meals. A room with a diaper changing table should have a clean sink and diaper disposal area.
- Wash your hands thoroughly and make sure your children practice the same. If your children are older, teach them to wash their hands, especially after using the toilet. Use warm water and soap, then scrub your hands vigorously for at least 20 seconds, then rinse thoroughly. Bring cleaning wipes and hand sanitizers when soap and water are not available.
Home Remedies for Gastroenteritis
To give you more comfort and and prevent dehydration as you recover, try the following home-care treatment tips:
- Stop eating solid foods for a few hours to relax your stomach.
- Get plenty of rest – gastroenteritis and dehydration may make your body feel weak and tired.
- Avoid certain foods and substances until you feel better. These include dairy products, caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and fatty foods or spiced foods.
- Drink plenty of fluids every day. Try sucking on ice cubes or drinking water. You can also try drinking clear soda, clear broth, or a caffeine-free sports drink.
- Start eating soft and easily digestible foods, such as biscuits, toast, agar-agar, bananas, rice, and chicken. Stop eating if nausea recurs,
- Be careful with medications you consume, Use ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) as little as possible, as it risks making your stomach sicker. Use acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) carefully, as it can sometimes cause liver poisoning, especially in children. Do not give aspirin to children or adolescents – as it can lead to Reye syndrome, a rare but potentially fatal disease. Before choosing a pain reliever or a fever reliever, discuss with your pediatrician first.
Contact a gastroenterologist at home and abroad immediately through Smarter Health if you have symptoms of gastroenteritis.