With the excitement up and worries seemingly down, all roads led to a popular playground, where the children were free to shout and the parents were glad to be out. Overwhelmed with so many activities, kids ran around joyously from corner to corner, seeking the next unexplored territory or item, as though they were miners trying to discover the location of a precious metal. A lot of focus on playing as though the day was all they had, there was no hesitation to play with toys or at play areas regardless of who had used it. It was therefore difficult for even the most health conscious caregivers to control contact between their wards and others.
Over zealous play, over feeding or something even more serious may have caused some children to be sick, vomiting all over the place, but it certainly did not stop others from playing or even running around at the same spot where abdominal contents were previously deposited. Whether the act was regarded as nothing to worry about, too much play or an early sign of a condition which would require medical attention, individuals and families would find out in the coming days after the fun day out.
Gastroenteritis, sometimes described by many as running stomach, stomach flu, food poisoning, stomach infection, is the inflammation of the lining of the stomach and the intestines usually characterized by vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain and sometimes fever. It is a common condition experienced during the festive season owing to liberal eating habits, frequent social gatherings amongst others. People tend to be less bothered about how well the food was prepared, perhaps, just how good it looks.
Gastroenteritis affects both young and old , male and female, educated or the not-so educated. Many times, following festivities, gastroenteritis is expected to occur as it is erroneously considered to be the norm. Hence it is not met with much surprise or attention especially because it is mostly self-limiting.
Gastroenteritis may be infectious(caused by an infection from viruses, bacteria, fungi, parasites and so on) or non-infectious( NSAIDs and other medications,
lactose intolerance, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease amongst others). Gastroenteritis due to infection is more common.
Rotavirus is a common cause of gastroenteritis in children, while Norovirus is common in adults. Escherichia coli and Campylobacter species are common bacterial causes of gastroenteritis. Consuming contaminated food and water, poorly prepared food, contaminated fruits and vegetables are popular factors that lead to gastroenteritis. Living organisms causing the condition multiply, increasing the risk of infection when the food is consumed. People may also come into contact with the infectious agents at parties, swimming areas, restaurants, parks, playgrounds and so on.
Children are considered particularly vulnerable to gastroenteritis and this may be attributed to their immune system which is not yet fully developed, their little attention to good hygiene ( children have the habit of putting objects into their mouths, they may also suck dirty fingers).Also, the complications of gastroenteritis may be more serious in children, especially dehydration.
Depending upon the causative agent and host factors, symptoms associated with gastroenteritis appear within hours to days following contact. Some common symptoms of gastroenteritis include vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain (cramps), Some people may experience fever or passage of blood in stools, while some may complain of symptoms of dehydration like increased thirst, dry mouth (cracked lips), irritability, absent tears while crying, decreased urination, lethargy amongst others.
Dehydration is a common complication of gastroenteritis because a lot of fluid and electrolytes are lost through diarrhoea and vomiting. It is also very easy for infants and children to become dehydrated, hence it is very important to prevent it or correct it promptly when it occurs. This constitutes one of the reasons early presentation to the health care facility is recommended. Due to the fact that gastroenteritis occurs many times as a result of infection from consuming contaminated food and water, areas with poor sanitation are prone to recurrent episodes(outbreaks) and this may have long term effects on the quality of lives of the people who live there, for instance, it may lead to malnutrition and stunted growth amongst children in those areas.
Management of gastroenteritis includes a thorough clinical history and examination. Be sure to tell your health care provider where you have been and what you have eaten recently, also mention whether you have had any recent close contact with someone with similar symptoms or recent travel. Medical history, clinical examination and relevant medical investigations may also help your primary health care provider to exclude other conditions that may present with similar features. Commonly, a full blood count and stool tests are required amongst other investigations. Treatment of gastroenteritis will depend upon causative agent, however, a common underlying factor is to ameliorate symptoms and correct dehydration or any other complications that occurred. Medical treatment should be by your primary care physician. Rehydration and Zinc supplementation are amongst important measures taken.
An important aspect of managing gastroenteritis is contact tracing of people with similar symptoms around the person being treated and educating caregivers on adequate hygiene practices.
Preventing gastroenteritis is important in limiting the burden of the condition. Good hygiene practices like proper hand washing, food hygiene, adequate environmental sanitation, proper sewage disposal and reducing overcrowding count are highly encouraged. Furthermore, immunization for Rotavirus and breastfeeding helps reduce episodes of gastroenteritis in infants. Adequate nutrition helps maintain strong immunity and reduces episodes.
Early presentation and early diagnosis with prompt intervention goes a long way in preventing complications that could arise from gastroenteritis.
Health quote of the week: “Your body is your most priceless possession. Take care of it.”–Jack Lalane