We all like to savor various food delicacies. But it’s quite disappointing when the food you eat makes you sick and one of the most common reasons for this is stomach infections.
Stomach infections are equally common among infants, children and adults and are more common in developing countries than developed countries. According to a study conducted in 2011, more than 11 thousand deaths were reported in the United States alone due to gastrointestinal infections.
Stomach infection also known as gastroenteritis is the infection of your gastrointestinal tract (stomach and intestine), which may be caused by a virus or bacteria. Viral gastroenteritis is also known as stomach flu. Infection further leads to inflammation of the stomach and intestine and causes nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps/pain and fever.
1. Bacterial Gastroenteritis: It can be easily transmitted from an infected to a healthy person. A person can contaminate food or objects by touching these with infected hands. He/she can even spread the infection to other parts of his/her own body such as eyes, nose or mouth with contaminated hands.
For the same reason, frequently wash your hands with soap and use hand sanitizer with more than 60% alcohol to sanitize your hands and objects such as cell phones, tabletops, counters, door knobs etc. Wash your hands after you, cough, sneeze, blow your nose, use the toilet and before you handle food and cutlery. Do not prepare food for others until your symptoms resolve. Also wait for at least 48 hours before you return to work.
2. Avoid Eating High Risk Foods: Especially undercooked meat, raw fish, oysters, raw or undercooked shellfish and other varieties of seafood, unpasteurized milk or juice, raw or lightly cooked eggs, cheese made from unpasteurized milk and raw or lightly cooked sprouts. Having such foods makes you more prone to infection caused due to various bacteria and virus such as Campylobacter, Clostridium perfringens, coli, Listeria, Norovirus, Rotavirus, Staphylococcus, Salmonella or Shigella.
3. Drink Clean Water: Human body is made up of approximately 60%-70% of water. And it is very important to keep yourself well hydrated to prevent and cure various ailments. But to be double sure that the water you drink is “Clean”. It is preferred that you use well sealed bottled drinking water when travelling and avoid using ice cubes because these may be made from contaminated water.
4. Keep Distance: Both bacterial and viral gastroenteritis are highly contagious and can easily spread from a patient to a caregiver or other members of the family. It is advised to avoid close contact with the infected person and avoid sharing towels, linens, plates, drinking glasses etc.
5. Eat Healthy and Properly Store Food: Include fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet. Fruits and vegetables are low in fat, salt and sugar and are a good source of dietary fiber. These should be properly washed before consuming and cooking. Cut fruits should be consumed immediately such as watermelons, bananas, apples etc. Vegetables should also be properly stored post cooking. Refrigeration at the right temperature will maintain the nutrition content of the food. Improper food handling may also contaminate the food and make it unfit for consumption. Frozen or refrigerated foods should be stored at the temperature mentioned on the label.
6. Get your child vaccinated. There are vaccines available against rotavirus and cholera-causing bacteria (Vibrio), that have reduced the occurrence of this infection in children. Also clinical trial of Norovirus vaccine has been done recently and it is likely that in the near future vaccines against many other bacteria and virus will be available.
7. While traveling in confined places like airplanes and cruise ships, you are more likely to get infected. This may be due to the food you consume or cross infection from a fellow passenger. Again, due to the risk of cross infections you should avoid crowded places like malls, movie theaters, market areas etc. Also, swimming in contaminated pools may make you sick.
8. There are certain foods that may make your symptoms such as diarrhea or abdominal pain even worse. Such foods should be avoided when you are down with a stomach infection. These foods include caffeinated drinks, such as coffee, tea, and cola soft drinks, junk food such as pizza, burgers, and other kinds of fried foods. Also some people may not be able to tolerate milk and milk products which contain lactose (milk sugar).
Post infection some people may not be able to eat a regular diet. Also, kids and adults recovering from viral gastroenteritis may have problems digesting milk and dairy products (lactose) for up to a month or more. The diet should be slowly advanced from bland non-fatty non-dairy diet to a solid meal.
Viral gastroenteritis usually lasts for around 3-5 days, whereas bacterial gastroenteritis lasts for 1-3 days. In some cases, infection may last for several weeks and turn out to be fatal if left untreated. Consult your doctor right away if your child is irritable, complains of severe abdominal pain, bloody diarrhea, has vomited several times or is having fever higher than 38.9° Celsius or 102° Fahrenheit.
If you’re an adult, seek immediate medical help if you have bloody vomits and bloody stools, severe abdominal cramps, cannot keep anything down for 24 hours, or have a fever above 40° Celsius or 104° Fahrenheit.
Stomach infection is an alarming situation but with prompt medical care and proper rest and medication, your infection likely goes away in a few days and you recover fully.
Infographic: Ways to Avoid Stomach Infections
Q1. Can packed food cause stomach infection?
Consuming improperly canned commercial food and expired packaged/processed food may cause botulism.
Q2. What is the major complication of gastroenteritis?
Dehydration is a major complication of gastroenteritis, it is characterized by dry mouth, less or no urination, severe weakness and dizziness.