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November 20, 2012
Star Health


Family and neighbours having diarrhoea

Dear Readers,

Michele is a 21-year-old woman who writes from Papine in St Andrew. Michele has noticed that several individuals in her family and neighbours seem to have suffered with diarrhoea recently. She has remained well, so far, as she has kept a distance from the "sufferers" and washes her hands very often - before and after meals, after using the bathroom and when she feels she has come in contact with anyone who she thinks is sick. She also avoids any person who is coughing. Michele asks Lifeline if she is on the right track with keeping herself "germ-free", as she has often read that this is the correct thing to do and it seems to be working for her.

avoid mosquitoes

The truth is that there are several viral illnesses circulating in our environment at this time, inclusive of dengue fever which is spread by the bite of the Aedes egypti mosquito, which has more to do with avoiding mosquito populations than anything else. Some individuals with dengue also experience abdominal cramps and some diarrhoea along with flu-like symptoms. However, genuine flu and diarrhoeal disorders caused by viral infections also are making a lot of people sick at this time of year. For these latter illnesses, Michele's formula is very useful.

Diarrhoea refers to the passage of more frequent, and usually watery stools. Diarrhoea that lasts only a few days is referred to as acute diarrhoea. This disorder is usually self-limiting and usually resolves completely without intervention. The rota or entero viruses are often the causative culprits.

Symptoms of diarrhoea are:

Loose watery stools

Abdominal pain and gripes

Frequency of passing stool

Leaking watery stools from the rectum

Bloating and flatulence

Rectal pain




Loss of appetite

Mucous or small amounts of blood in the stools

Any adult experiencing diarrhoea for more than three days should seek their physician's advice. Infants with significant diarrhoea should be taken to the doctor immediately, as they dehydrate quickly and dehydration can be life-threatening. Blood in the stool, rectal pain, or a history of recent travel abroad before the onset of the diarrhoea or seafood consumption are other indicators to go and see a physician. In these situations, the diarrhoea may have other causes that would require further investigation.

Infectious diarrhoea (caused by bacteria and viruses) can be prevented. Here, it is important to avoid coming in contact with infected persons and infectious agents. Hand washing is a simple but most important method that can be used to prevent an infection.

drink fluids regularly

With diarrhoea, it is important to avoid dehydration, so drinking fluids regularly is important. As sugar, nutrients, sodium and potassium are also lost from the body with diarrhoea, drinking water alone is not enough.

The salts must also be replaced and there are several over-the-counter oral rehydration preparations which are available and very useful for this purpose. Diluted fruit juices, beef soup and other broths, Gatorade and Lucozade can be consumed along with bottled or boiled water to fulfil these needs. Anti-diarrhoeal medication can sometimes be used in adults to slow the fluid loss and relieve the symptoms but they are never used in children. A soft, bland diet should be included if the person is not vomiting. People often want to take antibiotics when they know that they have an infection, but it should be noted that antibiotics treat bacterial infections and have no use in the treatment of viral infections, which account for the majority of diarrhoeal disease. Medication can be prescribed to lessen vomiting and abdominal cramps.

Always remember, 'prevention better than cure'. Michele is on the right track.

Write Lifeline PO Box 1731: KGN 8

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