Gastroenteritis (cont.)

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What are the complications of gastroenteritis?

Most people with gastroenteritis do not develop any complications, and make a complete recovery. The major complication for some people is dehydration; infants, children, the elderly, and immunodepressed are at higher risk for this complication. In many third world countries, rehydration of infants is difficult at best. Consequently, there are many infant deaths worldwide due to dehydration caused by gastroenteritis. In addition to dehydration, individuals infected with Clostridium difficile may develop pseudomembranous colitis; people aged 65 and older with this bacterial infection have a higher mortality rate from gastroenteritis.

Can gastroenteritis be prevented?

Because there are so many different causes of gastroenteritis, the ability to prevent the disease is related to the cause. Some causes are easier to prevent than others. For example, although viral causes are very contagious, one major viral pathogen, rotavirus, has a vaccine against it that has markedly reduced the incidence of rotavirus in the US pediatric population. Unfortunately, vaccines for other viral causes, although being researched, are not currently available. The only vaccine used against bacterial causes is Vibrio cholerae vaccine, but it is not readily available.

However, there are several general steps people can take to prevent or reduce the chance of getting gastroenteritis from almost any cause. These are as follows:

  • Hand washing, especially before eating and after any close contact with an infected person, or items (clothing, bedding, toys)
  • Launder daily items worn by infected individuals
  • Avoid as much direct contact with infected individuals as possible
  • Do not eat undercooked foods, especially meats like hamburger
  • Do not eat or drink raw foods or untreated water
  • Do not drink any untreated or unpasteurized fluids, especially milk
  • Thoroughly wash any produce before eating
  • While traveling, avoid all raw foods and ice; drink only from sealed bottled products and use bottled water for tooth brushing

These methods can reduce the chance of contracting gastroenteritis from most of the known causes, but no method offers complete protection.


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