Gastroenteritis (Stomach Flu) (cont.)

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How does food become contaminated with gastroenteritis bacteria or viruses?

In most instances, food and drinks come into contact with feces contaminated with the infecting agent. This can happen in the fields, or in transport, storage, and processing of food and drinks. In processed foods and drinks, this contamination is relatively rare, but when it occurs, an outbreak of the disease is often traced back to faulty equipment, human errors in the processing and/or a breakdown of quality-control procedures.

How is gastroenteritis diagnosed?

Gastroenteritis is most often presumptively diagnosed by the symptom(s) it produces (mainly diarrhea). Because gastroenteritis is usually a self-limited disease, the large majority of people are never seen or diagnosed by a doctor. There are no specific tests for gastroenteritis. However, during outbreaks like those seen on cruise ships, viral and bacterial cultures or PCR and other immunologically-based tests can eventually identify the causative pathogen. By the time this identification occurs, most of the patients with gastroenteritis have begun to recover. When gastroenteritis symptoms become severe, most public health officials and health care professionals run such tests to identify the causative agent of a specific disease, based on all of the patient's history, physical exam, and symptoms. In addition, patients with similar histories of recent food or drink they had in common with others often helps to discover the source of the disease (for example, people who got diarrhea had salads from the same food provider).

How is gastroenteritis treated?

Most people with gastroenteritis require no formal treatment. The key to a rapid and safe recovery at home (home remedy) is proper hydration. Home treatment consists of adequate fluid intake so dehydration is prevented. Clear fluids are recommended (Pedialyte especially for young children, Gatorade, PowerAde and other sports drinks), but not fruit juices or milk as they may prolong the symptoms. If dehydration occurs, the patient should be evaluated by a doctor. Many health care professionals choose to begin IV fluids, the treatment of choice for rapid rehydration.

Other medications may be prescribed to reduce the symptoms of gastroenteritis. To reduce vomiting, promethazine (Phenergan), prochlorperazine (Compazine), or ondansetron (Zofran) are often used. Some physicians suggest using these agents only as a suppository or rapidly disintegrating tablet on the tongue since patients may vomit the pills up. Others may prescribe diphenoxylate and atropineomotil (Lomotil) or lopermadine (Imodium) to slow diarrhea while others do not as they may prolong the disease. Many doctors recommend no medical treatment for gastroenteritis symptoms as all of the drugs have side effects and if the patient stays well hydrated, the symptoms usually stop soon anyway.

As the gastroenteritis symptoms abate, especially vomiting, doctors may recommend a BRAT diet (bananas, rice, apples and toast) for a day or two before returning to the patient's regular diet.

Patients who have more serious symptoms or other symptoms in addition to gastroenteritis need to be evaluated, diagnosed, and treated by a physician because the patient will likely have a specific disease that will need treatment. The treatment will depend on the cause of the illness (for example, salmonellosis or Clostridium difficile toxin). Antibiotics and other treatments may not be recommended for some of these diseases so an accurate diagnosis of the disease is important. For Clostridium difficile infected patients, antibiotic sensitivity testing may need to be done to determine the most effective antibiotics to use.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/31/2013

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Gastroenteritis - Symptoms Question: What symptoms did you have with gastroenteritis (stomach flu)?
Gastroenteritis - Experience Question: Please describe your experience with gastroenteritis (stomach flu).
Gastroenteritis - Cause Question: Do you know what virus, bacteria, or parasite caused your case of gastroenteritis (cruise ship, traveling by plane, traveling to another country, from a family member or friend?)
Gastroenteritis - Treatment Question: What treatments were effective for your case of gastroenteritis?
Gastroenteritis - Call for Medical Help Question: Did you have to call your doctor to treat your case of gastroenteritis? What did our doctor prescribe and what tests did he/she order to determine the cause of gastroenteritis?
Gastroenteritis - Complications Question: Please describe the complications you suffered due to gastroenteritis.
Gastroenteritis - Diagnosed Question: How was your case of gastroenteritis diagnosed?

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