How to survive the wave of gastroenteritis currently raging through Quebec

Since the beginning of winter, gastroenteritis has been raging through many hospitals, long-term and short-term care facilities and daycare centres in the province of Quebec. The number of people infected by this virus seems greater this year than in past years. But do you know the basic precautions to avoid getting it or how to treat it if you become infected?

Since the beginning of winter, gastroenteritis has been raging through many hospitals, long-term and short-term care facilities and daycare centres in the province of Quebec. The number of people infected by this virus seems greater this year than in past years. But do you know the basic precautions to avoid getting it or how to treat it if you become infected?

Gastroenteritis is an infection of the membrane that lines the stomach and intestines. It can be caused by different viruses, each prevalent in particular seasons. As a general rule, the number of people infected increases every winter. The current symptoms of gastroenteritis are: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps and slight fever.

Although terribly unpleasant, this infection is not severe for most people, who usually get better within a few days. However, very young children, older people residing in short-term or long-term facilities and people with weakened immune systems are at greater risks of experiencing dehydration-related complications.

The viruses that provoke gastroenteritis are principally evacuated in the feces of infected people. The risk of transmission increases when defecation is liquid and frequent. These viruses are transmitted by hands that have touched contaminated surfaces or by the ingestion of foods contaminated by traces of infected feces.

The main measures of prevention therefore consist of washing your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and warm water, and to avoid touching your face. It is important to disinfect toilets, sinks and door knobs with bleach when a member of the household has gastroenteritis to prevent other members of the family from getting sick.

The treatment for gastroenteritis primarily consists in preventing dehydration and replenishing the loss of water and essential salts and minerals. Try sucking on ice chips or take small sips of water or commercial oral rehydration solutions to replenish your body. Avoid drinking fruits juices, flat soft drinks or sports drinks, because these are high in sugar and may aggravate diarrhea. Gravol can help reduce nausea and vomiting, but it is not recommended to take Imodium to counter diarrhea because if you become constipated, the virus will not be evacuated, thereby prolonging the infection.

An adult should see a physician right away if he or she cannot keep liquids down for 24 hours, vomits for more than two or three days, has blood in his or her vomit or feces or has very high fever. When it comes to children, watch for signs of dehydration and visit a physician if: the inside of the mouth and lips are parched; he or she cries dry tears; the diaper stays dry for more than 3 or 4 hours; he or she is abnormally drowsy, sleepy or has no reactions or reflexes.

It is often preferable to pull your child out of daycare when he or she has gastroenteritis. You should also refrain from going to work if you have gastroenteritis to help limit the transmission of this infection.

As soon as your stomach feels better, you can eat again. Start with foods that are easy to digest such as crackers, dry toasts, bananas, Jell-O, rice, broth or chicken. Wait before eating or drinking dairy products, caffeine, alcohol and fatty or spicy foods. Stop eating right away if nausea returns. Keep breastfeeding or give your baby an oral rehydration solution if he or she is bottle fed, and slowly reintroduce solid foods by following the same precautions as adults.

If you are worried and distraught, do not hesitate to contact your pharmacist, physician or the Info-Santé help line.

Keep your fingers crossed and wash your hands!

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