Abu Dhabi - 21, June 2021: Gastroenteritis (GE) is an infection that affects the gastrointestinal tract (stomach and intestine). It usually presents with diarrhea (sometimes may be bloody), abdominal cramps, nausea, or vomiting, and sometimes fever. Other symptoms related to dehydration can also occur, like loss of energy, decrease in the amount of urine, dry mucus membranes, sunken eyes, occasionally lowered levels of consciousness and other neurological signs. We should pay attention to GE in children especially in younger ages, as we expect the disease to manifest and cause possible complications more in this age group.
GE is usually caused by an infectious agent, usually viruses (the most common virus across the world is Rotavirus); However, bacteria, parasites, and fungus may cause GE as well.
GE is common among infants due to the time it takes for a child's immune system to mature, with most children suffering from this at least twice every year. The frequency reduces after children turn three years old as their immunity strengthens.
Dr. Amar Al Shibli, Consultant and Chief of General Pediatrics, Tawam Hospital and Professor of Pediatrics at the CMHS, UAE University, said: “Although GE is common among children, it is easily preventable and can be usually treated with Oral Rehydration Therapy. I strongly advise parents to take precautionary measures.”
One of the most important methods for prevention is vaccination which is available against Rotavirus across SEHA's pediatric facilities. This vaccine is effective in preventing the illness and its associated symptoms.
Dr. Al Shibli also emphasized on the importance of good personal hygiene and regular hand washing in preventing disease transmission.
“Living through a pandemic has taught us the importance of hand hygiene like never before. Make sure you and your children maintain good sanitization practices. Teach them to wash their hands, particularly after using the toilet. We have all also learned how to carry and use sanitizers for times when water and soap might not be available. Make sure you and your children always sanitize after using public facilities.”
While we are used to social distancing as a method to limit the spread of coronavirus, it also helps curb the spread of other common viruses that are contagious like GE.
“Parents should be careful about exposing their children to other kids, family members, particularly if they seem ill.”
Other precautionary measures include disinfecting surfaces and keeping your home and surroundings clean.
Dr. Abdulla Al Amri; Consultant Physician; Tawam Hospital; SEHA and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the CMHS, UAE University said: “It is important to mention that there is no specific treatment for GE in children. Medication to stop or decrease the frequency of diarrhea is not recommended and may be even harmful. Medication to decrease vomiting may be used but only in controlled settings, i.e., in healthcare facilities.”
The most important thing in the management of GE is to replace the fluid and electrolytes (salts) that has been lost. This is done mostly through oral route; however, occasionally this is not possible and intravenous or parenteral fluid need to be administered in healthcare facilities.
There are certain symptoms that children display that parent should monitor for and if persist, should prompt parents to visit a healthcare facility immediately, including high temperature, persistent vomiting, symptoms and signs of dehydration and bloody diarrhea.
In addition to infants, GE can also affect adults. Although adults have a fully developed immune system, this tends to become less efficient as they grow older, making them vulnerable to contracting GE, especially those living in close contact with others, primarily children.
GE is also likely to impact immunocompromised individuals (people with an impaired immune system). If an individual's immune system is compromised by chemotherapy, lupus, type 1 diabetes, or another medical condition, they may be at higher risk.
“Adults should see a doctor if they are not able to keep liquids down for 24 hours, notice blood in bowel movements, and have a fever above 40ﹾC.”