Director of Family Health Services, Dr. Karen Lewis-Bell, is encouraging Jamaicans to utilise the proper sanitation and personal hygiene measures, in an effort to prevent themselves and their children from contracting gastroenteritis.
Dr. Lewis-Bell emphasizes that this is critical, especially as it relates to hand washing.
The Ministry of Health is reporting an increase in the incidence of gastroenteritis in children across the island, due to the prevailing conditions of what is termed the ‘dry season’ or drought as well as the presence of cooler temperatures.
Caused by several viruses and bacteria such as Norovirus, Rotavirus, Salmonella and Campylobacter, gastroenteritis refers to a medical condition that is characterised by an infection in the gastrointestinal tract, which consists of the stomach and the small and large intestines. It is also broken down into two categories, namely viral gastroenteritis and bacterial gastroenteritis and is identified based on its causal agent.
Commenting on its trends, Dr. Lewis-Bell notes that there is a usual spike in reported cases of gastroenteritis within the first quarter of the calendar year. She explains that the infection is an inflammation of the stomach and intestines which causes vomiting and diarrhoea.
The more common symptoms of gastroenteritis include low grade fever, mild to moderate diarrhoea, nausea with or without vomiting, as well as painful abdominal bloating, and lethargy. Other severe symptoms include the presence of blood in the vomit or in the stool, vomiting for more than 48 hours, fever higher than 101oF, swollen and/or painful abdomen, as well as dehydration.
Turning to its prognosis, Dr. Lewis-Bell points out that “gastroenteritis, by itself and in terms of the infection, is generally self-limited and mild, and usually clears up in about three to five days.”
In addition, she emphasises that gastroenteritis may become problematic as a result of the complications that may arise from dehydration, if the fluids that are lost from the body are not replaced adequately.
“So, it’s the complications of gastroenteritis, in terms of the dehydration, that can be quite severe and even lead to death,” she says.
As a result, the Health Ministry is urging parents and caregivers to be more vigilant in identifying symptoms of dehydration within an episode of gastroenteritis, in an attempt to prevent death. These include weakness, dry mouth, less urination and listlessness.
Meanwhile, Dr. Lewis-Bell tells JIS News that the main method of treating the infection is to adequately replace the fluids that have been lost as a result of vomiting or diarrhoea. She also recommends that after every episode of vomiting or diarrhoea, persons should estimate the amount of fluid lost in the vomiting or the diarrhoea and replace that fluid.
She points out that fluids should be given in small amounts every 15 to 30 minutes and the amount of fluids may vary, depending on the age or the size of the child. “A good rule of thumb is to give children a ¼ cup to ½ cup of fluid every 15 to 30 minutes,” she recommends.
“Gastroenteritis can be contagious,” Dr. Bell informs, while adding that “because it is a virus…the organism can be shed in the stool or the organisms can be spread when persons cough or sneeze.”
Persons are therefore encouraged to practise proper sanitation methods, such as the washing of hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after preparing food, before eating food, after handling or changing infants, who may have diarrhoea, and also after using the bathroom.