Ministry of Public Health advises community to take measures to prevent gastroenteritis as noticeable increase in cases has been observed

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GREAT BAY, Sint Maarten (DCOMM) – The Collective Prevention Services (CPS) department within the Ministry of Public Health, Social Development and Labour, is calling on the community to take preventive measures to prevent getting gastroenteritis.

Gastroenteritis is the inflammation of the stomach and intestine, which is usually due to acute infection by viruses or bacteria or to food-poisoning toxins and causes vomiting and diarrhea. Fluid loss is sometimes severe especially in infants and intravenous fluid replacement may be necessary.

CPS via its surveillance has observed an increase in the number of cases, and is closely monitoring the situation in collaboration with the Inspection Department, and is calling on all sectors within the economy that are in the food preparation business to take additional measures with respect to handling and how food is prepared.

The numbers observed by the surveillance team of CPS with the assistance of the Caribbean Public health Agency (CARPHA) review for the period of January to March 21st, 2015 (Epidemiological Week 1 to 11) is 179 suspected cases (81 in the age category 0 to 4 years of age and 98 in the age category 5 years old and above).

Viral gastroenteritis presents in children and adults several viruses such as rotavirus, enteric adenoviruses, astroviruses and caliciviruses including Norwalk-like viruses.

Viral agents such as Norwalk-like viruses are also common causes of epidemics of gastroenteritis among children and adults. The epidemiology, natural history and clinical expression of enteric viral infections are best understood for type A rotavirus in infants and Norwalk agent in adults and this is only known or confirmed with laboratory testing.

The associated symptoms are diarrhea, stomach cramps, vomiting, nausea, fever and headache.  The most common symptoms are vomiting and repeated episodes of diarrhea (three or more episodes within 24 hours).

The causes and treatment of gastroenteritis can differ between children and adults. The latter is a preventive measure to ensure food safety and public health.

The most common causes of gastroenteritis in adults are the norovirus and food poisoning and it is self-limiting.

The infection can spread when bacteria found in faeces or vomit is transferred to other objects.  Bacteria can be transferred through poor hygiene. It is spread through contamination of hands, objects or food infected with the aforementioned.  The virus enters your body via your mouth.  Viral gastroenteritis may also be spread through coughing and sneezing.

For example, if someone does not wash their hands after going to the toilet, any viruses or bacteria on their hands will be transferred to whatever they touch, such as glass, kitchen utensil or food.

To prevent the spread of the infection, wash your hands thoroughly after going to the toilet and before eating or preparing food; clean the toilet, including the seat and handle, with disinfectant after each bout of vomiting or diarrhea; don’t share towels, cutlery and utensils with other household members; and don’t return to work until 48 hours have passed since your last bout of vomiting or diarrhea.

Consult your family physician if you have the vomiting/diarrhea so you can be referred to the lab to get a confirmation on the diagnosis and the virus type.

Practicing good food hygiene will help you avoid getting gastroenteritis from food poisoning.  You should regularly wash your hands, surfaces and utensils with hot, soapy water; never store raw food and cooked foods together; avoid cross contamination of foods; make sure that food is properly refrigerated; always cook your food thoroughly; and never eat food that is past its sell by date.

If symptoms persist for a prolonged period of time, the family doctor may consider blood and stool tests to determine the cause of the vomiting and diarrhea.

For more information call CPS at 542-2078, 542-3003 or emailsurveillance@sintmaartengov.org