Gastroenteritis is an inflammation of the stomach and intestines that causes digestive problems. It is contagious and wide spread, particularly among children. Gastroenteritis is typically caused by a virus and is also known as "stomach flu" or "gastro". Gastroenteritis is most active in the winter.
Gastroenteritis is caused by the ingestion and invasion of germs (virus, bacteria, parasite or fungus) in the stomach or intestinal wall. These germs, found in fecal material, are responsible for infection and can cause inflammation. Contact between germs and certain objects or body parts serves as a vehicle for the transmission of gastroenteritis. Bacteria can also originate from foods or dairy products. Gastroenteritis can also occur as a result of a reaction to food (seafood, fruits, vegetables, meat or eggs) as well as parasitic or fungal intoxication.
Persons most at risk of contracting gastroenteritis are young children since their immune system is still immature and they tend to put a wide variety of objects in their mouth. The elderly are also more vulnerable to contracting gastroenteritis because immune systems weaken as people age.
Symptoms typically appear 24 to 48 hours after contamination and last between 1 and 3 days. It is important to note that a person remains contagious from the onset of symptoms and 48 hours after all symptoms have disappeared. The most common symptoms include:
In most cases, a typical bout of gastroenteritis does not require a visit to the doctor. If suffering from the above mentioned symptoms, only seek medical care if the symptoms last more than 48 hours.
We strongly recommend that medical attention be sought by individuals who present complications such as high-grade fever (in excess of 38ºC), severe abdominal cramps, blood or pus in their stool or severe dehydration (dry mouth, deep yellow urine, weakness, etc.). Depending on the symptoms, the physician will be able to make a diagnosis and recommend suitable treatment.
Children - Promptly consult a doctor if the following symptoms occur:
For the body to function properly, it is important to replenish the water, minerals, salts and sugars lost through vomiting and diarrhea. To prevent dehydration, it is best to start oral rehydration with an oral rehydration solution at the onset of diarrhea.
If dehydration is not too severe, continue with normal diet. Otherwise, it is important to resume eating as soon as possible once the vomiting has ceased. This will help provide the body with the resources it needs to fight off infection. Bland foods such as bananas, soup, crackers and oatmeal are good examples of foods that can be eaten under these circumstances. It is also important to avoid alcohol and caffeine since the diuretic effect of such beverages greatly increases urine output, thereby increasing the effects of dehydration.
Adults - Take small, frequent sips, as tolerated.
Children - Oral rehydration solutions are all the more important in children because they are more likely than adults to become dehydrated. For mild to moderate dehydration, 1 mL/kg every 5 minutes, over a period of 3 to 4 hours, is recommended. Afterwards, for each watery stool or episode of vomiting, add 1 mL/kg every 5 minutes for 1 hour. A spoon, oral syringe or cup can be used.
Rehydration can be achieved by drinking a commercial rehydration solution (ex. Pedialyte®, Gastrolyte®). The short-term use of a homemade solution can also be helpful.
When preparing a homemade solution, carefully measure the recommended quantities. Do not substitute any of the ingredients without first consulting with a healthcare professional.
The solution below must be freshly made and kept in the refrigerator or at room temperature, depending on your preference.
|Demineralized or boiled water||2 ½ cups (600 mL)|
|Orange juice, unsweetened||1 ½ cup (360 mL)|
|Table salt||½ teaspoon (2.5 mL)|
CAUTION: An oral rehydration solution will help prevent dehydration but will not stop diarrhea or vomiting.
To help alleviate the symptoms of gastroenteritis, your pharmacist may suggest acetaminophen to relieve stomach ache and fever. Antidiarrheal agents however, are not recommended because they prevent the body from ridding itself of the germs responsible for the infection.
To prevent gastroenteritis, good hand washing practices are crucial. Hands should be washed with hot soapy water for a minimum of 20 seconds. This will eliminate any bacteria from the hands. Alcohol-based antibacterial preparations are also effective. It is recommended that contaminated surfaces be disinfected to prevent bacterial transmission. Use a Javel water solution (1 part Javel water for 9 parts water) to disinfect all objects that an infected person may have come into contact with. Frequent washing of clothing and bedding will also help prevent the spread of gastroenteritis. And finally, toothbrushes should be disposed of to avoid infection transmission.
The patient information leaflets are provided by Vigilance Santé Inc. This content is for information purposes only and does not in any manner whatsoever replace the opinion or advice of your health care professional. Always consult a health care professional before making a decision about your medication or treatment.