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Viral Gastroenteritis – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment 

Viral gastroenteritis, also known as the stomach flu, causes discomfort due to inflammation of the stomach and intestines. Highly contagious in nature, it is important to recognise the symptoms and seek treatment immediately. 

Just today (13th January 2020), a dining establishment in Singapore was suspended following 26 reports of gastroenteritis, with 5 people being hospitalised. This is not forgetting, a 2019 case involving 230 students from a primary school, and the one back in 2018 that caused the death of a man

What causes Viral Gastroenteritis? 

Gastroenteritis, also known as the stomach flu, causes discomfort due to inflammation of the stomach and intestines. It can be bacterial, viral or parasitic. But the most common culprit is a virus called “norovirus”. 

It spreads quickly from an infected person through touching cutlery and sharing of food and drinks. This is likely why gastroenteritis outbreaks are commonly reported in food establishments. Immediate attention is given when a large number report having similar symptoms from dining at a similar location.

What are the Symptoms of Viral Gastroenteritis?

The symptoms vary from mild to severe, and usually appear 12 – 48 hours following an infection. They may last for two to three days, with some resolving on their own, while others requiring medical attention. The common symptoms are: 

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Stomach cramps

Other non-specific symptoms include: fever, headaches and body aches. 

Is there a treatment for Viral Gastroenteritis?

Most people do not require treatment, because the body is capable of fighting the infection on its own. However, it is important to ensure that a person with gastroenteritis does not get dehydrated. This occurs due to significant fluid loss through diarrhoea or vomiting. 

Drink plenty of fluids, in small amounts frequently to reduce the feeling of bloat. Choose porridge or soupy food, without spices and too much oil, to increase hydration, and minimise stress on the stomach too. 

It is important to understand that antibiotics will not help treat viral gastroenteritis. This is because antibiotics only help fight infections against bacteria, not viruses. 

When do we seek medical help?

  • When the symptoms have persisted for a few days without signs of improvement
  • Traces of blood in diarrhoea, or vomit 
  • Severe abdominal cramps 
  • When there are signs of dehydration
    • Dry mouth or tongue 
    • Very little or dark yellow urine
    • Sunken eyes
    • Dizziness, especially upon standing 
    • Confusion, irritability 

Pay special attention to the elderly, younger children and immunocompromised, who may be more susceptible to rapid deterioration. In the hospital, antiviral medications may be used, and patients will be given supportive treatment. This is usually in the form of symptomatic medications and intravenous hydration.  

How do we prevent its spread?

Prevention is always better than cure. Practice good personal hygiene by washing your hands. Especially after going to the toilet, and before having or preparing meals. 

Ensure all food is well-cooked (especially shellfish), and prepared with the proper techniques and hygiene standards. If unwell, it is imperative not to prepare food for others. 

Disinfect surfaces, and wash clothing items that were contaminated with vomit or diarrhoea with proper cleaning agents. 

With a bit more prudence and personal responsibility, gastroenteritis outbreaks can definitely be minimised.

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