Gastroenteritis means irritation and inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, which includes the stomach and small and large intestines. The condition is usually due to bacteria, food poisoning, parasites, or viruses, and it often results in diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. Gastroenteritis is commonly called gastric flu or stomach flu although it has no relation to the influenza virus.
What causes gastroenteritis?
Gastroenteritis is caused by several factors, and viruses and bacteria are the most common. Viral causes, which account for about 35% of cases in children, include adenovirus, rotavirus (a leading cause in children), calicivirus, parvovirus, astrovirus, and norovirus (a leading cause in adults). Viral gastroenteritis is usually brought about by poor hand washing habits or close contact with an infected person.
Bacterial causes of gastroenteritis include E. Coli (from traveler's diarrhea, food poisoning, dysentery, colitis, or uremic syndrome), Salmonella (from typhoid or improperly handling poultry or reptiles), Campylobacter (from undercooked meat or unpasteurized milk), and Shigella (from dysentery). A study found that 10% of children's diarrhea cases are caused by E. Coli.
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Additional causes of gastroenteritis arise from parasites or protozoans such as Giardia and Cryptosporidium, chemical toxins, heavy metals such as arsenic, lead, and mercury, and medications such as antibiotics, aspirin, caffeine, steroids, and laxatives. Lactose intolerance - the inability to digest the milk sugar lactose - is also a common cause of gastroenteritis.
Common symptoms of gastroenteritis include:
Low grade fever (100 F)
Nausea and/or vomiting
Loss of appetite
Painful cramps or bloating
How is gastroenteritis treated?
Since gastroenteritis tends to be a self-limiting and acute (not chronic or long-lasting) disease, it often does not require pharmacological therapy and the body usually is able to fight off the infection. Treatment is focused on rehydrating - replacing replace lost fluids and electrolytes, water and salts that are lost in the stools and vomit. Replenishing fluids is usually accomplished by oral rehydration therapy (ORT) or through intravenous delivery. An interesting study found that Gatorade is as effective as Pedialyte in correcting dehydration and improving bowel symptoms for children with diarrhea and vomiting related to acute viral gastroenteritis.
For severe symptoms or a suspected bacterial cause of the gastroenteritis, a doctor may prescribe antibiotics, fluoroquinolone, or macrolide. Antiemetics (to stop vomiting) may also be prescribed, but antimotility drugs (to stop diarrhea) generally are discouraged, especially in people with bloody diarrhea or diarrhea complicated by a fever.
Elderly residents in aged care with gastroenteritis must be tested as soon as possible to minimise the effects of outbreaks in aged care facilities (ACFs), Australian scientists reported.
How can gastroenteritis be prevented?
To stop infections from spreading, it is recommended that you wash your hands, eat properly washed, cooked, or prepared foods, bleach soiled laundry, and acquire the necessary vaccinations for Salmonella typhi, Vibrio cholera, and rotavirus if traveling to a high risk area. A study showed that pentavalent an oral rotavirus vaccine reduced hospitalisations and accident and emergency (A&E) department visits related to rotavirus gastroenteritis (RVGE) by up to 100%.