Vomiting doesn’t help flush your body of toxins. Here’s how should really treat a bad case of gastroenteritis.
In another case of serious food poisoning cases in Singapore, 109 children fell ill and 15 people were sent to the hospital after a gastroenteritis outbreak at four PCF Sparkletots Preschool centres. Parents reported that their kids had symptoms like diarrhoea, vomiting and high fever of up to 39 degrees. The source of the outbreak has been traced to food catered by Kate’s Catering.
The Straits Times reports that it’s the third such case in preschools in the span of a few months, and quite worrying if you’re a parent with young kids. In February 2019, Tanglin MindChamps preschool was hit with a gastroenteritis outbreak that affected 30 kids and one staff member, while another 14 kids at PCF Toa Payoh experienced vomiting and diarrhoea after lunch.
And of course, who can forget the Spize incident on November 6 last year, that saw 81 people falling ill after eating catered bento boxes, which proved fatal for a 38-year-old customer. Then, on November 23, 190 people (including SCDF officers) were hit with food poisoning from eating TungLok Catering food at the Singapore Expo.
Just three days later, 131 people, including six-year-old kindergarten students and their teachers, were struck with the bug after eating food prepared by FoodTalks Caterer and Manufacturer.
But what exactly is gastroenteritis, and how common is it? Why did the Spize customer die from it, and how can it be treated?
We asked Dr Shravan Verma, founder and CEO of Speedoc (a medical service app which provides 24/7 house call doctor services), to break down everything you need to know about the illness:
What causes gastroenteritis?
Gastroenteritis or stomach flu is usually caused by noroviruses that infect the stomach and intestines, and frequently causes diarrhoea, Dr Shravan says.
Common causes include eating contaminated food, coming into close contact with animals, as well as recreational swimming in ponds and lakes, and even some swimming pools.
The common bacteria that cause gastroenteritis are salmonella and E coli. “Salmonella is usually found in a few things: contaminated poultry, eggs, milk products, meat, nuts and spices. E coli (which is typically the cause of traveller’s disease), is due to ingesting undercooked meats or uncooked/raw food,” he notes.
Less common causes are parasites like amoebas and tiny worms that people get when they travel to places that have them.
How common is gastroenteritis?
“Gastroenteritis is the third and fourth most common cause of people coming to the polyclinics and visiting local general practitioners. We see 550 to 600 cases a week, which amounts to about 70 to 80 cases a day,” Dr Shravan reveals. (The most common illnesses are upper respiratory tract infections like flu.) “At Speedoc, gastroenteritis is the second most common illness patients see us for”.
How does gastroenteritis affect the body? What are the signs/symptoms?
Different bugs affect different parts of the intestines, Dr Shravan says. But in general: Infection of the small intestines, which work to absorb food nutrients and water, is caused by viruses. Nausea, vomiting and watery diarrhoea are usually signs of gastroenteritis. Fever is usually not common, and rarely are blood or mucus found in the stools.
Large intestines are affected by bacteria, which sees the patient suffering from fever as well as having blood and mucus in stools. “Symptoms can start to show from a few minutes after eating until a few days later, depending on the incubation period of the bug,” he says.
Can someone die from gastroenteritis? How?
“Most people do recover with no complications,” Dr Shravan says. However, he also notes that if someone fails to keep enough water in their body, their body can become dehydrated and this can lead to kidney failure. Pathogens in the gut can also spread to the blood and thus to other organs, damaging them.
Are certain groups of people more susceptible to getting gastroenteritis?
“Young children aged two years and below are more susceptible as their intestines are still immature,” Dr Shravan says. Other liable groups include the elderly, those with weak immune systems such as patients with cancer or HIV, or those with heart or kidney failure. Travellers are also more prone to contracting gastroenteritis because of the different sets of bacteria and viruses in different countries.
What are the recommended ways to deal with or cure gastroenteritis?
“It’s important to keep drinking water. We encourage patients to drink as much fluids as possible like water and beverages like H-TWO-O, as gastroenteritis causes dehydration,” Dr Shravan says. He notes that as long as there’s no blood or mucus in the stools, or bad stomach pain, the key thing is to do is replenish the body’s lost fluids.
“If it’s more serious and the patient cannot eat or drink, or keep anything inside, it’s best to get help from a doctor. We usually give oral rehydration salts that contain electrolytes to treat dehydration.” He also says that doctors may prescribe anti-vomiting medicines, or even put the patient on an IV (intravenous) drip.
Does vomiting help?
“People usually think that vomiting helps flush the body of toxins, but that’s a misconception. If there are toxins or bacteria in the body, vomiting won’t really help,” he reveals. “The best thing to do is to hydrate the body with fluids”.
What is the typical recovery period like?
“Most cases are self-limiting, so around three to four days, or a week at most. If it occurs for more than one week, consult a doctor to get tested for other causes,” Dr Shravan says.
A version of this story first appeared on www.womensweekly.com.sg.