Bacterial Infection medically known as Gastroenteritis or Gastroinstestinal Infections and commonly known to us as Diarrhea.
Diarrhea, which is characterized by frequent and watery bowel movements, is often caused by gastrointestinal infections, although it can also come from other illnesses or changes in diet. Germs such as parasites, viruses, or bacteria can all cause gastrointestinal (GI) infections.
Which germs are responsible for diarrhea depends on the geographic area a person lives in and its level of sanitation, economic development, and hygiene standards. For example, countries that have poor sanitation or use human waste as fertilizer tend to have outbreaks of diarrhea when intestinal bacteria or parasites contaminate crops or drinking water.
Many different types of bacteria and parasites can also cause GI infections and diarrhea. Most are not serious and go away after a few days, but others can be quite serious.
Common GI Infections
Here are a few types of GI infections:
Salmonella bacteria lead to between 1 and 5 million cases of diarrheal illness in the United States each year. These bacteria are a major cause of food poisoning and are frequently found in raw chicken or eggs.
Shigella bacteria are highly contagious and spread easily from person to person. They attack the intestinal wall and may cause ulcers that bleed. Shigella infections account for more than 160 million cases of diarrhea around the world each year.
E. coli bacteria are found in the bowel movements of people and animals. Some strains of the bacteria secrete a toxin that can be life threatening for small children and older people. Others can cause traveler's diarrhea, a milder infection. E. coli infections spread through direct person-to-person contact or contaminated water or food, such as undercooked beef in hamburgers or unwashed fruit that came into contact with animal manure.
The Giardia parasite, which spreads easily through contaminated water and human contact, is another common cause of diarrheal infections in the United States. This parasite can spread in water parks and pools because it is resistant to chlorine treatment. Bathing in and drinking water from contaminated streams or lakes can also lead to an infection and chronic diarrhea. Infants in child-care settings often become infected with Giardia and can bring the parasite home, causing diarrhea in family members.
Another parasite, Cryptosporidium, is a common culprit behind diarrhea epidemics in child-care centers and other public places. Cryptosporidium often causes watery diarrhea that can last for 2 weeks or more.
Signs and Symptoms:
Usually GI infections cause abdominal cramping followed by diarrhea. The following could be experienced:
fever, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, weight loss, dehydration, mucus or blood in the stool
These symptoms typically last for a few days or longer. If the symptoms last for more than 2 weeks, however, one may have chronic diarrhea. Call the doctor if one thinks that one has chronic diarrhea or if one sees blood in the stool.
When Will Symptoms Appear?
The incubation period for a gastrointestinal infection can vary depending on the particular germ causing it. Eg, the Shigella incubation period is usually 2 to 4 days, but the period for viral infections ranges from 4 to 48 hours.
Parasitic infections generally have longer incubation periods, such as a Giardia infection, in which symptoms can take from 1 to 4 weeks to appear. Then, depending on the type of germ and the person's overall health, a diarrheal infection can last for a few days or a few weeks.
How Long Are GI Infections Contagious?
Diarrheal infections are highly contagious. They can spread from person to person via dirty hands, contaminated food or water, and some pets. Most cases are contagious for as long as a person has diarrhea, but some infections can be contagious for even longer.
Can they be prevented?
The most effective way to prevent contagious diarrheal infections is to wash the hands frequently. Dirty hands carry germs into the body when one does things like biting nails or use the hands when eating. It's important to always wash the hands with soap and water thoroughly after using the bathroom and before eating, especially if one knows there's an illness going around. Making sure the bathroom surfaces are clean can also help to prevent infections.
Food and water can also spread germs that cause diarrhea. To help protect cook foods thoroughly and wash raw fruits and vegetables well before eating them. Avoid eating pink hamburgers or other undercooked meat, and always refrigerate leftovers quickly — your delicious turkey dinner can grow nasty bacteria after just a few hours of sitting on the counter.
Make sure your kitchen counters and cooking utensils are clean, too, especially after they've been in contact with raw meat, eggs, and poultry. Avoid eating food that's been left out for a few hours, even if it's been reheated, because toxins can still survive in the food.
If one is traveling or camping, never drink from streams, springs, or lakes unless local health authorities have certified the water safe for drinking.
Pets, particularly reptiles, can also spread germs if they aren't kept away from family eating areas. Never wash pet cages or bowls in the same sink that your family uses to prepare meals. And always wash the hands after handling the pet!
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