Gastro-enteritis is an acute inflammatory sensation on the lining of the stomach and small bowel. It usually results from infection from contaminated food or water. Children are frequently affected by this disease.
Gastro-enteritis usually begins suddenly with a feeling of nausea and abdominal cramps, followed by vomiting, diarrhoea, fever and weakness. There may be intense rectal burning, and the stools may contain blood and mucus. The patient may pass loose or watery motions several times a day. All this loss of fluid from the bowel may result in severe dehydration which is characterised by sunken eyes,dry skin, dry tongue, thirst, excessive weakness and occassionally muscle cramps. This may lead to a condition known as acidosis which is characterised by deep rapid respiration, as the body tries to get rid of carbon dioxide. There may be pain in the abdomen, with some distension, especially in the lower areas. It is a sign of potasium deficiency. The course of disease may last from few hours to a week.
There are many and varied causes of gastro-enteritis. The worst attacks of this disease are caused by germs. Foods prepared at home and sold in restaurants are easily contaminated either by toxins or poisonous substances, produced by different type of germs. These germs multiply and form colonies in the contaiminated food. Foods most frequently contaminated by these germs are various meats, fish, custards, cream-filled pastries, milk and different kinds of deserts. The trouble usually arises from the infected nails, skin infections on the hand of those who handle food, or perhaps by coughing. Some children are allergic to certain foods, which may act as poison to them Others react poorly to various drugs, cathartics and chemicals.
Gastro-enteritis attacks occur within two to four hours after taking the contaminated foods. Most of these attacks only last a few hours and are followed by complete recovery. In outbreaks of gastro-enteritis, a number of people are usually involved, all of whom have eaten the same food at the same time. The disease is also spread by contamination of water supply to sewage and overflow of sewage in the rains.
The child-patient should be kept in bed. He should not be given any food as long as the nausea and vomiting persists. Application of gentle heat to the abdomen will help relieve spasm or pain. To treat dehydration, he should be given plenty of boiled water to drink with electrolyte formulation. An oral redehydration solution can be made at home by extracting the juice of half a lemon in half a glass of water and adding a pinch of salt and two teaspoons of sugar. This solution should be given to the child several times a day.
To check vomiting, ice-bag should be applied over stomach, throat and spine. Cold compresses can also be applied over the abdomen with beneficial results. They should be changed every 15 or 20 minutes.
When the vomiting subsides, the child should be given sips of some warm drink, such as barley or rice water. After the acute symptoms are overcome, he should be given a bland diet like rice, curds, apples, and ripe bananas. Oily and spicy foods should be avoided. After complete recovery, the patient should be allowed to gradually embark upon a well-balanced diet, according to his age. The emphasis should be on whole grain cereals, raw and lightly- cooked vegetables and fresh fruits.
Gastro-enteritis in children can be prevented by discouraging them from taking uncooked outside food or stale food at home, especially in the monsoon or summer season. They should not drink outside water and should always be given boiled water during monsoon. All fruits and vegetables should be washed in a solution of potassium permagnate before eating them. Hands should be thoroughly washed before taking food. Nails must be trimmed atleast once in a week. Foods must be stored in cool place free from flies and should be well-ventilated. All persons who handle food, plates and containers used in cooking and serving should strictly observe the rules for personal cleanliness. The kitchen must be kept thoroughly clean and no rubbish should be allowed to accumulate. It should be ensured that there is no sewage drain near water supply.