Gastroenteritis: Types, Symptoms, Causes and Treatments

Gastroenteritis

Gastroenteritis is a disease that affects the bowels (I.e. the small and large intestines). It is caused by severe inflammation and swelling of the internal walls and innings of the intestines. It is also known sometimes as infectious diarrhea.

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The usual culprits that cause this inflammation are either bacteria, virus, parasites or a combination of the two. But in majority gastroenteritis is mostly caused by viruses.

Mostly gastroenteritis is called the stomach flu and it is a disease that can be spread through contact with infected stools and it can be spread very easily from infected people to non-infected people. There are two basic types of gastroenteritis and they include:

Viral gastroenteritis

It is an infection which causes inflammation of the intestines and stomach. it is most caused by viruses. There are two main viruses known to be the culprits behind viral gastroenteritis and they are ROTAVIRUS AND NOROVIRUS. Other viruses which may be known to cause this disease includes adenovirus and astrovirus.

Among little children, THE ROTAVIRUS is known to be the exact main cause of gastroenteritis. The most common way by which this disease is gotten is via direct contact with an infected person or via the intake of contaminated fluids and food.

It is mostly deadly in infants and likewise the aged and elderly and this is due to the fact that their immune system has not been fully developed as in the case of infants or that their immune system has begun to get weakened due to age or maybe an underlying disease. One thing one must know is that gastroenteritis is always very fatal and deadly if not treated on time.

Once a person is immune compromised, the tendency and chances of the person to recover very fast is reduced but once a person is very healthy, then the person can recover without problems and recovery period will be quite fast too.

There is currently no evident treatment for viral gastroenteritis as most of the time, when a person has viral gastroenteritis with a very good immune system, the viral gastroenteritis will resolve on its own.

Rotavirus is commonly what causes gastroenteritis in children and in infants. When a child puts his or her hand inside a contaminated food or inside a contaminated water and then puts it into his mouth, they can easily get infected as well.

The symptoms of gastroenteritis are usually very severe in infants and very young children mostly within the ages of 1 and 3 years old. This doesn’t mean that adults too aren’t infected with rotavirus.

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But most times, they rarely get infected by it and once they are infected, they hardly show symptoms of the disease. They only become carriers of the disease but not necessarily get infected by it.

The Norovirus however is also another cause of viral gastroenteritis. It is a very contagious form of gastroenteritis and the disease can spread across people of all ages. It is mostly spread when people touch infected or contaminated objects, surfaces, infected pukes or vomit and infected faeces.

Most times, the norovirus is commonly seen in areas where they are mostly congested, crowded and confined in a small area.

In most places when people get to share objects and get to be in contact or in a closed space with their restrooms or maybe have their water supply very close to their waste sewer, the norovirus is usually spread very fast among people living in these areas.

Gastroenteritis

Mostly the Norovirus is commonly seen among underdeveloped and still developing countries. Likewise, Norovirus is also seen on cruise ships, hospitals and restaurants.

Hence, it is usually known as the traveler’s sickness due to the nature of the people that gets infected by it and also due to places where it can be contracted. There are some signs and symptoms experienced by a person having viral gastroenteritis and it includes:

  1. Watery diarrhea
  2. Puking or vomiting
  3. Severe headache
  4. Mild or severe fever
  5. Abdominal and stomach pain.

These symptoms are not exactly different from the symptoms experienced by a person having food poisoning. A person having viral gastroenteritis has the biggest problem or complication of dehydration. Asides dehydration, the person may also experience electrolyte disturbance and metabolic acidosis.

Bacterial gastroenteritis

This is an infection caused by bacteria. It occurs when bacteria begin to cause inflammation of the lining of the walls of the intestines and sometimes also the walls of your stomach. There are a numerous amount of bacteria that can get into one’s intestine causing inflammation.

They include yersina bacteria commonly found in undercooked pork meat, staphylococcus bacteria commonly found in dairy products (such as milk and yogurt) and also found in undercooked meats and eggs, shigella bacteria usually seen when there is a large amount of water such as in rivers and swimming pools, salmonella bacteria also found in undercooked meats and eggs, campylobacter found in undercooked poultry meats, and most especially E. coli found in salad and greens.

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It also is a form of gastroenteritis that is very infectious and can easily be spread around when such a person carries bacteria in his/her hands. Every time you carry an infected object in your hands and the bacteria gets into your hands, you become a carrier and also risk infection.

Once you shake another person’s hands, you may just have spread the bacteria around and it just might get into your body and your intestines if the bacteria have any contact with any of the external openings in your body such as your eyes, ears, and mouth. If you are the type that loves traveling a lot or you live in a crowded environment, you are severely at risk of contracting bacteria gastroenteritis.

Bacterial gastroenteritis is often treated depending on how severe the infection is. If you are mildly infected, then you can go ahead with home treatments such as;

  1. Keeping yourself moderately hydrated by taking in fluids constantly and regularly during the day especially if you are vomiting or having diarrhea (either mild or severe).
  2. Eat salty foods in little quantities as this can help increase your electrolyte level
  3. Take in foods and fruits very high in calcium and potassium. Fruits such as bananas is highly recommended.
  4. If you notice you still can’t keep fluids down and all you do is puke or vomit, then ensure that you visit your doctor as soon as you can.
  5. Don’t do self-medication. This means that you shouldn’t take any drugs without consulting your physician first.
  6. If you have ginger at home, it is highly recommended that you take it because it can help put the infection at bay and likewise reduce the severity of the abdominal and stomach aches you may be experiencing.
  7. Apple and cider vinegar are also recommended as they will strengthen your stomach against future infections.
  8. Avoid taking any diary product or high fiber foods as this might just increase the severity of the infection.

There are some signs and symptoms you would experience when having bacterial gastroenteritis and they include lack or loss of appetite, puking or vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps alongside stomach aches. However, this infection can be prevented by ensuring you do the following things:

  1. Ensure you keep your kitchen essentially clean; free and void of bacteria
  2. Wash your hands before and after using the restroom (toilet)
  3. Before you handle any cooking instruments or even before cooking, ensure you thoroughly wash and clean your hands well before starting to cook.
  4. Ensure you take a clean bottled water while traveling and likewise ensure you avoid areas where there is any outbreak of any sort.

The major complication of gastroenteritis is dehydration, and this occurs when a person who is constantly losing body fluids did not take in fluids to replace the one that has been lost from the body. There are signs to detect that a person (an adult) is suffering from dehydration and it includes:

  1. Excessive thirst which is the body’s way of saying that the patient has low blood volume.
  2. Infrequent passing out of urine due to the body trying to conserve and maintain an adequate blood volume level in the body
  3. Dark colored urine due to the lack of fluid and reduced kidney function
  4. Dry skin
  5. Light headed or dizziness

Likewise, there are signs to detect dehydration in babies and infants and they include:

  1. Dry mouth
  2. No tears produced from the lacrimal glands when the baby starts to cry
  3. Severely high fever
  4. Infrequent passing out of urine characterized by no wet diaper over a long period of time

For those experiencing mild dehydration, they can simply take the ORAL REHYDRATION THERAPY (ORT) while those who are severely dehydrated will need to take intravenous drips and likewise maybe hospital admission before they enter into shock.

When one experiences any of these signs either in an adult or in children or infants, please kindly visit your physician right away for proper Checkup and also for appropriate prescription of drug use.

Deborah Akinola
Wirter, poet and public speaker