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Eat wisely. Don't let food destroy your holiday.   2014-01-20

With the summer holidays and BBQ season around the corner many of us will be jetting off to far off destinations or enjoying a good BBQ at home with friends and family. But did you know that some simple and elementary mistakes in food hygiene could spoil everything?

Gastroenteritis is caused by contaminated food or drink causing an excess production of fluid which can cause three or more episodes of diarrhoea and vomiting within a 24 hour period. Experts say that more than 50% of the people who contract one of the gastroenteritis viruses and dehydrate, are under the age of 2. According to BUPA, 1 in 5 people in the UK are infected annually resulting in approximately 190 deaths every year in the over 65 age group.

There are two main types of gastroenteritis viral and bacterial. Both can affect any one at any age. This article will clarify the difference between the two by explaining the signs and symptoms, how to prevent and treat the illness.

Bacterial gastroentiritis (food poisoning)

Bacterial gastroenteritis is an inflammation of the stomach and intestines caused by bacteria. It is also known as acute gastroenteritis or food poisoning. Bacterial gastroenteritis can affect anybody who has eaten the same food or drink and commonly occurs in cruise ships, hotels, at social functions or in restaurants. In this case the bacteria can enter the food in different ways:

  • Contact with sewage water.
  • Food prepared by someone who did not wash hands properly before handling.
  • Food prepared with dirty or unclean cooking utensils.
  • Dairy products or food containing mayonnaise that has been has been allowed to warm up for too long outside the fridge.
  • Frozen or refrigerated foods that have not been stored at the proper temperature or have not been reheated properly.
  • Contaminated raw fish or oysters.
  • Raw fruits or vegetable that have not been washed properly.
  • Raw vegetables or fruit juices and dairy products that have not been pasteurised.
  • Eggs or meat that have not been properly cooked.
  • Water from a contaminated natural source.

Bacterial gastroenteritis symptoms

The main symptom of bacterial gastroenteritis is diarrhoea however symptoms can vary depending on the bacteria. Symptoms may include abdominal cramps or pain, bloody stools, loss of appetite and nausea and vomiting.

Most forms of bacterial gastroenteritis should only last a couple of days and we advise you to avoid dehydration by drinking plenty of fluids. This is especially important in young children who may be reluctant to drink. Should you or your child show any form of dehydration such as sunken eyes or reduction of urine production you must seek medical advice. However, most pharmacies sell medication that will help slow down or even stop the diarrhoea. You should feel better after a few days however please contact your GP should your symptoms change or if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Blood or pus or blacken stools.
  • Persistent diarrhoea with a fever of over 38oC.
  • Recently returned from a foreign country and develop diarrhoea.
  • Stomach pains that don’t go away after a bowel movement.
  • Symptoms of dehydration (thirst, dizziness or light headedness).
  • The diarrhoea gets worse or doesn’t get better after 2 days (children and infants) or 5 days for adults.
  • Persistent vomiting for more than 12 hours in an infant over 3 months old. For those younger than 3 months call your GP as soon as the vomiting or diarrhoea begins.

Viral gastroenteritis

Viral gastroenteritis is often called 'stomach flu'. This is because it refers to swelling and inflammation of the stomach and intestines from a virus which can lead to diarrhoea and vomiting.

Like bacterial gastroenteritis stomach flu can occur in one person or a group of people who have all eaten the same contaminated food or drunk the same contaminated water. Viral gastroenteritis is a leading form of severe diarrhoea in both adults and children and there are many types of viruses.

Norovirus is common among the young. It may even cause outbreaks in hospitals and on cruise ships. Rotavirus –is the leading form of severe gastroenteritis in children and it can also affect adults who are in contact with children or who live in nursing homes. Astrovirus is a mild form of gastroenteritis that often goes unreported and mainly affects children under the age of 5 years although it has been reported in adults as well. Outbreaks can occur in schools and nurseries. Enteric adenovirus – an acute form of gastroenteritis in children worldwide. It is the third most common cause of infantile gastroenteritis after rotavirus and norovirus.

Viral gastroenteritis symptoms

The incubation period for viral gastroenteritis is usually about 4 - 48 hours after being contaminated with the virus. The symptoms, which may not appear for up to 2 days following infection, include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhoea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Chills, clammy skin or sweating
  • Fever
  • Joint stiffness or muscular pain
  • Poor feeding
  • Weight loss

We advise you to drink plenty of water and fluids especially if you have diarrhoea. To ensure that you don't dehydrate stay away from fruit juices, fizzy drinks either flat or bubbly, jelly or broths as these contain a lot of sugars which can make the diarrhoea worse. Drink small amounts of fluid about 100mls/3oz every 30-60 minutes. Don't drink large amounts of fluids at once as this may make you vomit. If you are breastfeeding a child who becomes ill, stop breastfeeding and change to soya milk until you have spoken with your GP.

Like bacterial gastroenteritis the illness may last only for a few days without any treatment however should be concerned or suffer from any of the follow please seek medical help:

  • Blood in stools
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Feeling faint
  • Nausea
  • No tears when crying
  • No urine for 8 hours or more
  • Appearance of sunken eyes
  • Sunken soft spot on an infant's head

In severe cases of either form of gastroenteritis severe dehydration can occur, which can lead to death, especially in infants and young child.

Avoidance is better than cure and especially during the hot summer months maintain good personal hygiene when preparing food. If you are away from home ensure that you only eat in reputable establishments. We would like to wish you a lovely holiday and remember gastroenteritis can provide you with meal that you won't forget in a long time.