Gastroenteritis, also known as gastric flu and stomach flu, is an infection of the stomach and bowel caused by viruses, bacteria or other parasites. There have recently been many news reports about cases of norovirus, or the “winter vomiting bug” as it’s commonly known. Noroviruses are one of the most common causes of this medical condition.
Bacterial gastroenteritis can come from food poisoning, that is, if a person eats food that has been contaminated by bacteria such as salmonella or escherichia coli (e coli), they may demonstrate the symptoms. It interferes with water absorption in the bowels, which causes the main symptom of watery diarrhoea. This can lead to dehydration if fluids are not replenished, particularly in young children and the elderly. Infected people may also suffer vomiting and stomach cramps.
Is Gastroenteritis contagious?
Many forms of this medical condition are highly contagious and it is a very common illness, especially in the winter. Norovirus outbreaks are particularly common in contained environments such as hospitals, schools and cruise ships, as the virus spreads so easily from person to person and can live on surfaces for several days if they are not thoroughly disinfected. This makes good infection control procedures in these environments vital.
Even if someone is no longer showing symptoms, they can still infect others with this medical condition, as the virus can still be present in stools for up to 2 weeks after they have recovered. So it is important not to return to work or school for at least 48 hours after symptoms have vanished, usually when a solid stool is passed. In some cases, where gastroenteritis is not caused by a pathogen, it is not contagious. Causes of non-contagious gastroenteritis include food allergies, conditions such as IBS or Crohn’s or ingesting toxins.
How Does Gastroenteritis Get Spread?
It is mainly spread through contact with bacteria found in faeces. When these bacteria are transferred to the mouth and swallowed, this causes the infection. The main reason for this is simply poor hygiene. If someone does not wash their hands after using the toilet, the viruses or bacteria on their hands will be transferred to anything they touch, including door handles, food, kitchen utensils, toys and even other people.
Bacterial gastroenteritis can be spread in the same way as viral gastroenteritis, but also through eating contaminated or poorly cooked food, or handling pets and animals. In fact, there have been several cases of petting zoos and farms having to close due to e coli infections, which can be very serious and cause lasting damage to the person infected, particularly in the case of the elderly or children. These come about because the animals may roll in their faeces, and possibly have e coli on their fur. Meat or other produce from the farms may have been found to contain the bacteria. Gastroenteritis can also become airborne if an infected person vomits, sneezes or coughs. Others may then inhale the pathogens and become infected themselves.
How To Prevent Gastroenteritis?
Good hygiene practice is vital in any environment, but particularly in contained environments. Ensure that you wash your hands after using the toilet and make sure children do so too, wipe down surfaces thoroughly before and after preparing food, and avoid returning to work or school until 48 hours after last showing symptoms.