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How Gastro Runs Its Course

Aug 27, 2007
Gastroenteritis is a very common disease, often referred to as an upset stomach, traveler's tummy, or Montezuma's revenge. It is primarily a viral condition, i.e. not caused by bacteria.

Viral gastroenteritis is often mistakenly called stomach flu, but it is not caused by the influenza virus and it does not infect the stomach.

Gastroenteritis is the inflammation of the intestines, which causes diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, loss of appetite, and other symptoms of digestive upset.

Highly contagious, viral gastroenteritis is the second most common illness in the United States. Anyone can get viral gastroenteritis and most people recover without any complications. However, it can be serious when people cannot drink enough fluids to replace what is lost through vomiting and diarrhea, especially infants, young children, the elderly, and people with weak immune systems.

The disease is spread through close contact with infected persons, either by sharing food, water or eating utensils. Outbreaks can occur in households, child care settings, schools, nursing homes, cruise ships, camps, dormitories, restaurants, and other places where people gather in groups.

Viral gastroenteritis is either sporadic or epidemic. The sporadic form is characterized by vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal discomfort, fever, or a combination of these.

The epidemic version is also known as winter vomiting disease, acute infectious non bacterial gastroenteritis, epidemic diarrhea and vomiting, epidemic collapse, and epidemic nausea and vomiting.

The influenza virus does not cause epidemic viral gastroenteritis but instead is responsible for "the flu," a systemic, febrile (causes a fever) disease that predominantly involves the respiratory tract and not the digestive tract in humans.

Many viruses and other microbes (germs) can cause gastroenteritis. Bacteria, like E-coli, do not themselves cause the illness, but their poisonous by-products can contaminate food. The viruses that cause viral gastroenteritis damage the cells in the lining of the small intestine.

At least 50% of all food-borne outbreaks of gastroenteritis can be attributed to the norovirus and rotavirus, which occur primarily in the winter.

The Norwalk and Norwalk-like viruses account for most food and waterborne outbreaks of gastroenteritis in North America.

Astroviruses and Adenovirus cause sporadic gastroenteritis in children under 4 years of age.

Insects, rodents or other animals present in areas where food is prepared may contaminate food, equipment, benches and utensils with gastroenteritis germs. The agents that cause viral gastroenteritis can also be carried in drinking water or commercial shellfish that have been contaminated by sewage runoff. Infected food handlers who don't follow proper sanitary procedures also can spread the disease in meals served in restaurants and cafeterias.

In general, the symptoms begin one to two days following infection with a virus that causes gastroenteritis and may last for one to 10 days, depending on which virus causes the illness

Treatment focuses on reducing the symptoms and preventing dehydration. Gastroenteritis will normally pass of its own accord, providing the patient is able to keep sufficiently hydrated.

Viral gastroenteritis cannot be cured with antibiotics. Replacement of fluid and electrolyte losses is the critical central element of effective treatment of acute diarrhea.In hospitalized cases where the patient is not able to keep down any fluids, this is done intravenously.

No vaccine is available for viral gastroenteritis with the exception of a newly released rotavirus vaccine called Rotateq.

In closing, the best cure for this all too common disease is prevention! Strict hygiene measures should be standard, including disinfection of toilets after use and regular hand washing. Ensure that food is always stored in clean, sealed containers, all perishables are kept refrigerated or frozen until needed, and meats are well cooked. In many areas it is wise to boil and/or filter the water.

As many victims of this condition have either a chronic or temporary low immune system, it is of utmost importance to ensure that you keep your immune system in tip-top condition.

Remember: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!
About the Author
Ann Stewart is author of inspirational book, newsletters and articles,
With Wings As Eagles
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