Gastroenteritis or stomach flu

Gastroenteritis, or stomach flu, is an inflammation of the intestinal lining caused by viruses, bacteria, or parasites.

A virus is the most common cause of gastroenteritis.
For example, in the UK, infection with noroviruses and adenoviruses is the most common cause of gastroenteritis in adults, but other viruses can also cause the inflammation.

Gastroenteritis often affects children under 4 years of age and infants. In this case, it is usually a viral infection caused by rotavirus.


Causes of gastroenteritis

There are many organisms or substances that can cause gastroenteritis, including:

  • Viruses – such as norovirus, calicivirus, rotavirus, astrovirus and adenovirus.
  • Bacteria – such as Campylobacter.
  • Parasites – for example, Entamoeba histolytica, Giardia lamblia and Cryptosporidium.
  • Bacterial toxins – the bacteria themselves are not the cause of the disease, but the toxins they produce can contaminate the food. Some strains of bacteria, such as staph, produce toxins that can cause gastroenteritis.

You can get gastroenteritis at any time of the year, even in summer, but often exposure to cold is responsible.

Types of gastroenteritis

  • Acute Gastroenteritis, lasts less than 2 weeks.
  • Persistent Gastroenteritis, lasts more than 2 weeks.
  • Chronic Gastroenteritis, lasts more than 1 month.
  • Eosinophils Gastroenteritis, a condition that causes symptoms of the stomach and intestines (stomach pain, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea) in an area characterized by infiltration of eosinophilic leukocytes (white blood cells).

Symptoms of gastroenteritis

Symptoms of gastroenteritis include:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Nausea
  • abdominal pain and abdominal cramps,
  • Vomit
  • abdominal bloating and meteorism (air in the abdomen) are rarely observed.

Many people refer to gastroenteritis as an “intestinal virus.” This can sometimes lead to confusion with influenza, which causes the following symptoms:

  • Headache
  • Muscle
  • Respiratory problems.

But influenza does not affect the gastrointestinal tract.

The term gastrointestinal flu suggests a viral infection, even if other causes of infection are possible.
Viral infections are the most common cause of gastroenteritis, but bacteria, parasites and food poisoning (such as contaminated mussels and seafood or raw foods or undercooked food) can also cause gastroenteritis.
Those who travel abroad can get a “traveller’s diarrhea” due to contaminated food and impure water.
The severity of infectious gastroenteritis depends on the ability of the immune system to resist the infection.
Mineral salts (including sodium, magnesium and potassium) can be lost in a person due to severe diarrhea and vomiting.

Most people recover quickly after a brief episode of vomiting and diarrhea by drinking fluids and following a special diet. However, others, such as infants and the elderly, can become dehydrated by the loss of bodily fluids in gastroenteritis. This is then a dangerous disease, unless you pick up the lost fluid again.

How is the diagnosis of gastroenteritis made?

The doctor must assess the medical history to make sure that nothing else is causing the symptoms.
In addition, the doctor may perform a rectal or abdominal examination to rule out inflammatory diseases (for example, Crohn’s disease) and pelvic abscesses (pus sacs).
A stool culture (a laboratory test to detect bacteria and other organisms in a stool sample) can be used to determine the germ or a specific virus that causes gastroenteritis.
Other conditions that can cause diarrhea and vomiting include pneumonia, septicemia (general infection of the body), urinary tract infections, and meningitis (an infection that leads to inflammation of the meninges of the brain or spinal cord). In addition, conditions that require surgery, such as appendicitis (inflammation of the appendix of the appendix), intussusception (a condition in which the intestine slips over itself and leads to intestinal obstruction) and Hirschsprung’s disease (a disease in which part of the nerve cells in the intestinal wall are missing), can lead to symptoms similar to those of gastroenteritis.

How to protect yourself from gastroenteritis?

In most cases, gastrointestinal inflammation is highly contagious. The disease is transmitted mainly when the bacteria present in the stool reach the mouth.
The bacteria can be transmitted through poor hygiene. For example, if someone doesn’t wash their hands after the toilet, viruses or bacteria can be transmitted from their hands to anything touched, such as glasses, kitchenware, or food.

You can get the viral or bacterial infection by first touching the contaminated objects and then the face or eating contaminated food.
If you are infected, you observe the symptoms of gastroenteritis such as vomiting and diarrhea.
With gastroenteritis, you are not allowed to go to work until 48 hours after the stool has returned to normal to avoid transmission to other people.

How long is the incubation period?

The incubation period is usually 1 to 3 days, but if infected with adenovirus, it can last up to a week.

How can food be contaminated by a virus of gastroenteritis?

Food can be contaminated by cooks or staff in the kitchen with viral gastroenteritis, especially if they don’t wash their hands regularly after going to the toilet. Seafood can be contaminated by dirty water. People who eat raw or undercooked crustaceans or crustaceans from contaminated water may get diarrhea. Drinking water can also be contaminated by manure and is a source of these viruses.

How is the therapy of gastroenteritis in adults?

The symptoms often pass within a few days. This time is needed by the immune system to defeat the infection.
Rarely, hospitalization is required only if symptoms are severe or complications develop.

Advice on relieving symptoms
Liquid – you have to drink a lot.
The aim is to prevent dehydration or treat existing dehydration.
As a guideline, you should drink at least 200 ml of fluid after a diarrhoea attack.
This amount of fluid should be taken in addition to what one usually drinks.
For example, an adult usually drinks about two liters a day, in hot countries even more.
The recommendation of another 200 ml after each diarrhoea attack must be added to the amount you normally drink.
If you vomit, you should wait 5-10 minutes and then drink again, but more slowly. For example, a sip every 2-3 minutes. But, as previously described, you have to pay attention to the total amount.
Those who are dehydrated need to drink even more. The doctor dictates how much dehydrated patients need to drink.
For many adults, the amount to drink to maintain fluid levels should consist mainly of water and possibly soups. It is better not to drink sugary drinks such as Coca-Cola, as these can sometimes make diarrhea worse.

Rehydration solutions (for example, WHO hydration solution) are recommended for debilitated individuals or people over the age of 60 with other health problems.
You can buy them in small bags in the pharmacy.
The bags are also available on doctor’s prescription.
Add the contents of the bag to water. The rehydration drink creates a balance between water, mineral salts and sugar.
A small amount of sugar and salt helps the water to be better absorbed in the intestines, but this does not interrupt or reduce diarrhea.
You should not drink self-prepared drinks with salt and sugar, because the amount of salt and sugar must be precisely measured.

Medication for gastrointestinal flu

For rehydration therapy, antisecretory drugs have been developed.
They decrease the amount of water in the intestine during an episode of diarrhea.

It is recommended not to eat for some time with gastroenteritis. One should be guided by appetite.
As soon as you are able to do so, you can eat again, but you must never stop drinking. If you want to eat, you should avoid fatty, spicy or heavy foods at first. Foods like whole wheat bread and rice are good at first.

Usually, medication for diarrhea is not required.
However, you can take them to reduce the frequency of toilet visits. You can buy medicines for diarrhea in the pharmacy. One of the most used and effective means is loperamide. The dose for adults is two capsules for each diarrhoea attack, but a maximum of 8 capsules a day. Then go back to one capsule for each diarrhea.
It works by slowing down intestinal activity. Loperamide should not be taken for more than five consecutive days.

Note: Children under 12 years of age should not be treated with medication for diarrhoea.
In addition, no medication for diarrhea should be taken if there is blood or mucus in the stool or if there is a high fever.
People with certain diseases should not take loperamide. Therefore, you should read the package leaflet to be sure. For example, pregnant women are not allowed to take loperamide.

Paracetamol and ibuprofen (Aktren) are effective for reducing fever or headaches.

To relieve abdominal cramps, scopolamine (Buscopan) can be taken.
As mentioned earlier, if symptoms are severe or persist for a few days, the doctor may request a stool sample.
This is sent to the lab to look for the microbes that caused the infection.
Sometimes an antibiotic or other treatment becomes needed if bacteria are the cause of the condition.
Antibiotics are contraindicated in viral gastroenteritis, as they can aggravate the situation.

How long does gastroenteritis last?

The prognosis of acute viral gastroenteritis is a maximum of 2-5 days, within a week you are healthy again.
If the symptoms persist for more than 2 weeks, other diseases should be considered.
Bacterial gastroenteritis can last for a few weeks.
As a rule, the symptoms improve gradually, but for about a month you may suffer from loss of appetite, severe fatigue and drowsiness after eating, especially after a plentiful meal.
It is important not to worry if the body temperature reaches 37° in the evening after eating.
At this altitude, this is not yet considered a fever.

Natural remedies for gastroenteritis

The bacterial intestinal flora is essential for proper intestinal function. Unfortunately, diarrhea can also destroy the “good” bacteria that aid digestion.
To restore the intestinal microflora, there are preparations based on lactic acid bacteria, which are very helpful and effective.

What is allowed to eat a person with gastroenteritis?

Nutrition is one of the most important aspects of therapy.

In the first few days, nothing should be eaten at all, at least for 3 days or until the fever has subsided.
During this period, the patient needs to drink plenty of water.
When he feels better, he should start eating juicy fruits such as oranges, honeydew melons, watermelons, etc., as well as vegetables, such as carrots, celery and green leafy vegetables.
After that, whole grains can be added and after 5-7 days you can eat normally again, preferably vegan diet or raw food, to restore gut health.
After the first few days, one or two apples a day can be eaten, which soothe the stomach.
It is extremely important to follow the doctor’s dietary recommendations to avoid relapse.

Prevention of gastroenteritis

General tips for reducing the risk of gastroenteritis:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after going to the toilet or changing diapers, after smoking, after using tissues or after touching animals.
  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water before preparing food or taking meals.
  • Use paper towels instead of cloth towels to dry hands, because bacteria can survive on the objects for a certain period of time.
  • Do not process raw food and cooked food with the same utensils (grippers, knives, cutting boards) unless they have been thoroughly washed during the change.
  • Clean all kitchen surfaces and appliances.
  • Keep cold foods below 5°C and hot foods above 60°C to slow down the growth of bacteria.
  • Make sure the food is well cooked.
  • Clean the toilet and bathroom regularly, especially the toilet seat, doorknobs and faucets.
  • Regularly clean the children’s clothes.
  • When traveling abroad to countries where hygiene is suspect, you should only drink bottled water and without ice cubes.
    Don’t forget to brush your teeth with bottled water. Buffet food, raw vegetables, unpeeled fruits and vegetables should be avoided.
  • When breastfeeding, there is no risk of infection between mother and child and vice versa, but one must pay attention to possible skin injuries.

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