Managing Acute Gastroenteritis Amidst the Heatwave

Managing Acute Gastroenteritis Amidst the Heatwave


By-Dr Vineet Kumar Gupta, Director & HOD, Gastroenterology, Yatharth Hospital, Greater Noida

Acute gastroenteritis, commonly referred to as stomach flu, is an inflammation of the stomach and intestines typically caused by viral, bacterial, or parasitic infections. It is characterized by sudden onset of symptoms such as diarrhoea, vomiting, nausea, stomach cramps, and fever. While it can affect individuals of all ages, certain groups, including young children, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems, are particularly vulnerable to severe dehydration and complications arising from this condition.

The primary mode of transmission for gastroenteritis is through the ingestion of contaminated food or water, direct contact with an infected person, or touching contaminated surfaces. Viruses, especially norovirus and rotavirus, are the leading causes of gastroenteritis globally. Bacterial pathogens such as E. coli and Salmonella, as well as parasites like Giardia, also contribute to outbreaks.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

The symptoms of acute gastroenteritis can range from mild to severe and typically appear within one to three days after exposure to the causative agent. Common symptoms include watery diarrhoea, vomiting, nausea, abdominal pain, and cramps. Fever, headache, and muscle aches may also be present. The illness usually resolves within a few days to a week; however, severe cases may require medical attention to prevent dehydration and other complications.
Diagnosis of gastroenteritis is primarily based on the patient’s clinical history and symptoms. In severe cases, laboratory tests, including stool cultures and blood tests, may be conducted to identify the specific pathogen and guide appropriate treatment.

Treatment and Prevention

Treatment for acute gastroenteritis focuses on managing symptoms and preventing dehydration. This includes ensuring adequate fluid intake with oral rehydration solutions, maintaining a balanced diet, and avoiding foods that may irritate the stomach. In severe cases, hospitalization and intravenous fluids may be necessary. Antibiotics are typically reserved for bacterial infections and are not effective against viruses.

Preventive measures are crucial in controlling the spread of gastroenteritis. These include practicing good hand hygiene, ensuring safe drinking water, properly cooking and storing food, and avoiding contact with infected individuals. Vaccination is available for certain pathogens, such as rotavirus, which can significantly reduce the incidence of severe gastroenteritis in children.

Impact of Heatwaves on Gastroenteritis

The ongoing heatwave has exacerbated the incidence of acute gastroenteritis, highlighting the intricate relationship between climate conditions and infectious diseases. High temperatures can affect food and water safety, leading to an increased risk of contamination and outbreaks.

During a heatwave, the risk of foodborne illnesses rises as bacteria multiply more rapidly in warm conditions. Improper food storage, inadequate refrigeration, and unsafe food handling practices can lead to bacterial proliferation in food, causing gastroenteritis. Additionally, high temperatures can compromise the quality of drinking water, particularly in areas with inadequate sanitation infrastructure. Contaminated water sources become breeding grounds for pathogens, increasing the likelihood of waterborne gastroenteritis.

Acute gastroenteritis is a common but potentially serious condition that requires prompt recognition and management to prevent complications. The ongoing heatwave has heightened the risk of gastroenteritis outbreaks due to increased food and water contamination. Public health efforts should focus on promoting safe food and water practices, especially during extreme weather events, to mitigate the impact of gastroenteritis and safeguard the community health.

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