When you have bacterial gastroenteritis it means you are experiencing inflammation in the stomach and intestines due to invading bacteria. It can be very unpleasant, leaving you rather ill. The good news is, there are ways to both treat it and avoid it altogether.
Bacterial gastroenteritis is commonly referred to as food poisoning or flu. According to the World Health Organization, close to 600 million people worldwide experience food-borne illness every year. Bacterial gastroenteritis or food poisoning can happen anywhere. It can take place while at a picnic, at large social gatherings, at restaurants, in school cafeterias, and even in your own home.
What are the common causes of bacterial gastroenteritis?
There are a number of different bacteria associated with bacterial gastroenteritis. Yersinia is found in pork, staphylococcus can be found in dairy products and meat, shigella is linked with water that is found in swimming pools, and salmonella is found in meat and dairy. Meat and poultry can also contain bacterium called campylobacter. E. coli is a bacterium associated with ground beef and salads.
Essentially, we can blame bacterial gastroenteritis causes on improper handling of food (contamination), improper storage of food items, and meats that are not cooked thoroughly. In the year 2000, an outbreak of E. coli in the water supply of Walkerton, a small town in Ontario, Canada, lead to seven deaths and 2,300 illnesses.
Bacterial gastroenteritis signs, symptoms, and risk factors
Bacterial gastroenteritis symptoms depend on what caused the inflammation. In other words, what type of bacteria created the problem. While all forms of food poisoning tend to cause diarrhea, there are other symptoms that are possible.
Here is a list of some bacterial gastroenteritis symptoms that are experienced by many who are faced with the condition:
- Abdominal cramps
- Abdominal pain
- Bloody stools
- Loss of appetite
It’s important to note, if you have a weak immune system due to some other medical condition, you may have a higher risk of getting bacterial gastroenteritis. If you take medications that reduce the acidity in your stomach, it may also increase your risk.
Of course, handling food incorrectly can raise risk of food poisoning. Bacteria produce harmful toxins and can multiply rapidly. If food is undercooked or not reheated the right way, you are creating a recipe for illness.
Bacterial gastroenteritis treatment options
In many cases of bacterial gastroenteritis, the symptoms do not show up until a few days after you have actually been infected. When you see a doctor, he or she may ask you to provide a stool sample for testing. You may also be asked about any recent trips you might have taken, as well as your eating habits.
Bacterial gastroenteritis treatment isn’t always necessary. It can go away without any intervention. In some situations though, it can last for weeks. It is important to replace fluids, especially if diarrhea and vomiting are an issue. Without fluid intake, you will become dehydrated and require an intravenous line in a hospital.
Some medications can slow down diarrhea when it is really bad. As well, antibiotics are sometimes prescribed for certain types of bacteria.
If you have a mild case of bacterial gastroenteritis, you can try the steps below to head down the road to recovery:
- Drink fluids throughout the day.
- Eat little amounts of food and often, including salty foods.
- Eat foods that contain potassium, such as bananas.
- Only take medication if you have consulted with a doctor.
- If you can’t keep fluids down, seek medical attention.
- Get plenty of rest.
Bacterial gastroenteritis prevention and home remedies
Although there are literally millions of cases around the world every year, bacterial gastroenteritis prevention is possible. There are simple steps we can all take to ensure we are not exposed to the nasty bacteria that cause inflammation in the stomach and the unpleasant symptoms that come along with it.
Here are some preventative tips to keep in mind:
- Never forget to wash your hands well before handling food.
- Wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly with a scrub brush.
- Use one cutting board for meat.
- Wash all cutting boards and utensils in hot, soapy water after use.
- Clean kitchen counters with bleach or disinfectant.
- Cook meats to a safe temperature to kill bacteria.
- Dispose of diapers properly so bacteria don’t spread.
- Wash your hands carefully after contact with someone who is ill.
When it comes to cooking meat, the best approach is to use a food thermometer. Guidelines suggest that ground beef, veal, pork, and lamb be cooked to at least 160°F (71°C). Fresh beef, veal, and pork (steak, roasts, chops) should be at least 145°F (63°C). The rule for poultry, including ground chicken and turkey, is to cook it to an internal temperature of at least 165°F (74°C).
Hospitals and nursing homes have to be particularly careful about bacterial gastroenteritis. The sick and elderly are more susceptible to flu-like illness due to compromised immune systems. Nursing homes tend to take specific steps to prevent the spread of gastroenteritis. Healthcare workers have hand washing guidelines, wear protective clothing, such as gloves and gowns when working with patients who have gastroenteritis, and they place patients with the condition in private rooms or with others who have the same infection. Kitchens in nursing homes also have strict hand-washing and food safety rules.
Infectious disease experts say hand washing is one of the best things we can do to prevent the spread of illnesses like gastroenteritis, but not everyone washes their hands the right way. Below we outline the hand-washing technique most recommended by doctors.
- Clean the whole hand, including under the nails, between fingers, and up the wrists.
- Wash for at least 15 seconds.
- Don’t just wipe, scrub as well.
- Rinse by allowing water to run down your fingers, not up your wrists.
- Dry hands well and use a paper towel to turn off the faucet and open the door.
Some people like to turn to bacterial gastroenteritis home remedies when symptoms of the illness do arise. Some studies suggest that the BRAT diet, which is a combination of bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast is most effective. The BRAT diet helps people recover from an upset stomach and diarrhea. It includes binding foods that are low in fiber and can make stools firmer. The bananas in this type of diet are high in potassium, which can help replace nutrients that your body has lost due to any vomiting and/or diarrhea.
The BRAT diet is designed to help people slowly ease back into their normal eating routine.
Acupressure, a healing technique that comes from acupuncture, has been known to reduce nausea and vomiting. According to Kettering Cancer Center, acupressure (finger pressure) used to stimulate certain points on the body helps release tension and promote circulation that reduces nausea and vomiting.
Studies also suggest that a number of herbs, including basil, spearmint, rosemary, coriander, and fennel have antimicrobial effect against food-borne bacteria and may be able to add additional protection when used in the cooking process – something to consider.
Let’s face it, if you have ever had food poisoning or the stomach flu, you know it can make you feel downright miserable. Following a few preventative steps can help you avoid the misery. If, by chance, you do get bacterial gastroenteritis, keep in mind that it will be short-lived if you take care of yourself and manage the symptoms.