by Dr. Asma Khan
Many of us can remember feeling sick to our stomach at some point. Viral gastroenteritis, more commonly known as the stomach flu, may have been what we were experiencing. Let’s talk a little about what causes gastroenteritis, and how to prevent it in the first place.
Causes and Symptoms
You are likely to contract viral gastroenteritis when you eat or drink contaminated food or water, or if you share food or utensils with someone who is already infected. The most common viruses that lead to gastroenteritis include noroviruses, the number one cause of foodborne illness worldwide, and rotavirus, which is more common in children.
In many cases, the virus is passed through the fecal-oral route, meaning that someone with a virus has handled food you ate without washing his or her hands after using the bathroom. Some shellfish, especially raw or undercooked oysters, can also transmit this virus.
Although it’s called stomach flu, gastroenteritis isn’t the same as influenza at all. Real flu only affects your respiratory system (nose, throat, and lungs), but gastroenteritis attacks your intestines. Symptoms include:
- Watery diarrhea
- Abdominal cramps and pain
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Head and muscle ache
- Low-grade fever
Note that if there is blood in your diarrhea, you probably have a more severe infection, and should see a doctor.
- Get your child vaccinated against gastroenteritis, which will prevent severe symptoms later in life.
- Wash your hands thoroughly with warm water and soap, rubbing them together vigorously for at least 20 seconds.
- Avoid sharing eating utensils, drinking glasses, plates, and towels with other people.
- Avoid close contact with anyone who has the virus, if possible.
- Disinfect hard surfaces such as counters, faucets, and doorknobs.
- Make sure your child care center has separate rooms for changing diapers and preparing or serving food.
- Take extra precautions when traveling internationally, including drinking only bottled or carbonated water, using bottled water to brush your teeth, and avoiding raw food.
Viral Gastroenteritis: What You Need to Know
Gastroenteritis occurs all over the world, affecting people of every age, race, and background. Young children, older adults, people with a weakened immune system, and those who frequently share close quarters with others are particularly susceptible.
Immediately see a doctor if you are dehydrated, can’t keep liquids down, have been vomiting for more than two days, are vomiting blood, notice blood in your bowel movements, or have a fever above 104 F.
Take precautions to prevent getting gastroenteritis and teach your children to do the same. If you do start to show signs of an infection, visit HRHCare Urgent Care or talk with your doctor. We are here for you!
Asma Khan, MD, is the Clinical Director at HRHCare Urgent Care, 84 N Highland Ave between High Street and Sickles Ave in Nyack. Along with offices in Haverstraw and Spring Valley, the facility is part of the 28 health center HRHCare network in the Hudson Valley and Long Island providing comprehensive primary care.
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