Monday, February 13, 2012

Norovirus or Food Poisoning or Stomach Flu Causing Gastroenteritis?

Gastroenteritis Symptoms and Preventive Tips
When the stomach and intestines become inflamed, misery can quickly set in as the person experiences a condition called gastroenteritis. Symptoms such as stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea occur with gastroenteritis. It's not pretty and people welcome these symptoms about as much as they would welcome having head lice or getting a case of poison ivy. Many people recover within a few days after experiencing gastroenteritis, but some may experience serious symptoms and even death in severe cases.

What is stomach flu?

The stomach flu is simply a common lay term often used whenever someone has gastroenteritis, regardless of the cause. The flu, or influenza, is a respiratory illness caused by a virus that often results in symptoms such as a fever and sometimes chills, cough, muscle aches and fatigue, headache, sore throat, and/or runny nose. Some people, particularly children, may experience vomiting and diarrhea with influenza, but intestinal symptoms are not as common as the other symptoms.

Food Poisoning and Foodborne Illness Symptoms – Photo by Katrena
What is food poisoning?

Food poisoning, now known as foodborne illness, results from ingesting food or drink that contains one of 31 known pathogens with resulting symptoms of cramping, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, sometimes accompanied by fever and/or dehydration. Additional substances are also being studied for potential health risk. Although food poisoning may be caused by a virus, including norovirus, foodborne illness can also result from quite a few different sources, the most common of which include:
  • bacteria
  • fungi
  • parasites
Photo by GrahamColm at en.wikipedia
What is norovirus?

Noroviruses are a group of viruses that share certain characteristics. Norovirus is the most common cause of gastroenteritis in the United States with estimated numbers of 20 million annual cases. Foods more commonly associated with a norovirus outbreak include raw foods, fresh produce, or shellfish. People can be infected with norovirus over and over again and no vaccine exists at this point to prevent the illness, so preventive measures can be helpful in preventing its spread.

Safe Food Handling Tips – Photo from Wikimedia Commons


Tips for keeping foods safe

Although foodborne illnesses and norovirus can spread easily, here are some ways to help prevent the spread of pathogens that can cause gastroenteritis:
  • Use proper hand hygiene – properly washing hands with soap and water is more effective in combating norovirus than using hand sanitizer.
  • Keep surfaces for preparing foods clean.
  • Wash produce and raw foods.
  • Properly cook meats and eggs
  • Ensure that perishable foods are stored in the refrigerator (40 degrees F or less) or freezer (0 degree F or less) within two hours.
  • Avoid preparing foods while experiencing symptoms of norovirus infection and three days after the symptoms subside.
Can Foodborne Illness Cause Autoimmune Diseases? - Photo by Nephron at
Wikimedia Commons
Serious symptoms and immune responses to foodborne illnesses

Gastroenteritis usually runs its course within a few days and most people fully recover. However, some persons may experience serious signs and symptoms of dehydration and other complications of norovirus, foodborne illness, or gastroenteritis. Some populations may experience a variety of immune responses that have the possibility of resulting in chronic or serious conditions, such as:
  • autoimmune disorders
  • arthritis
  • Guillain-BarrĂ© syndrome
  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • kidney failure
Some cases could lead to life-threatening events and death, so it is important to contact one's healthcare provider if experiencing serious or prolonged symptoms of gastroenteritis. Those who are older, very young, have chronic health conditions or are at risk for complications should be particularly watchful of symptoms, ask questions, and voice concerns with a healthcare provider if experiencing gastroenteritis.

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