Wholly Healthy: Battling the Bug — Gastroenteritis

Lately I have seen many patients with gastroenteritis, an illness producing vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, chills, headache and, sometimes, fever. Here are a few tips on handling “the bug” that is so common now (and which, by the way, is not influenza).

Prevention first: If possible, avoid contact with anyone who has vomiting and diarrhea, particularly if you have any underlying serious illnesses like diabetes, kidney disease, congestive heart failure, emphysema, cancer or other problems that might lower your immunity, or if you are taking medications that lower immunity. And if you have gastroenteritis, be considerate of family members who might catch it.

When caring for loved ones with gastroenteritis, wash your hands often and thoroughly, and avoid touching your mouth. Most transmission occurs after contacting the virus when touching surfaces contaminated with body fluids like stool and vomit. It also happens when eating or drinking after a person with the virus. When the virus enters your mouth and passes into your intestinal tract, it begins the cycle of infection and illness.

People usually become ill within one to three days of exposure and may be sick for up to one week, depending on the strain of virus involved.

The vomiting and diarrhea of gastroenteritis cause fluid loss (dehydration). Symptoms include thirst, poor urine output, weakness, dizziness or syncope (passing out), dark urine, muscle cramps, headache and dry skin that does not immediately return to normal when pinched. This is called “tenting.”

The way to avoid dehydration, quite logically, is to hydrate. This means drinking small amounts of non-caffeinated fluids and doing so frequently — all day and all night long. Nausea medications can help a lot, and it’s always nice if your physician can give you a prescription to keep at home “just in case.” Anti-diarrheal medication can be used if diarrhea simply won’t abate. These medications should not be given to children and should be used only with a physician’s guidance in the elderly, as they may produce terrible constipation or bowel blockage later.

Remember that infants, young children and the elderly are especially prone to dehydration and may need physician evaluation sooner than others if they don’t improve within a day or so. Dehydration, with the associated loss of sodium and potassium from the body, can be deadly.

I hope you don’t catch it. But if you do, be encouraged in the knowledge that most cases resolve without any special treatment. Now go wash your hands, just to be safe!

Here’s a link to additional information: https://goo.gl/fre3vs.