Doctors monitoring gastroenteritis outbreak

The Public Health Department is monitoring an outbreak of gastroenteritis (diarrhoea and vomiting) among children and adults.

Five children ages 14 months to four years were admitted overnight to the Cayman Islands Hospital for treatment. These five cases experienced diarrhoea and/or vomiting and abdominal cramps. Some of them also had fever. All of the patients have recovered from their illnesses.

Usually there are 15-25 cases of gastroenteritis weekly.

In the first week of January, 14 cases were reported, rising to 68 cases in the fourth week of the month. As of 29 January, a total of 152 cases of gastroenteritis had been reported to the department, said the Director of Public Health, Dr Kiran Kumar. Thirty-five of these patients were children under five years of age.

Gastroenteritis is an inflammation of the stomach and of the small and large intestines, caused by a variety of viruses or bacteria. Usually, Rotavirus is the most common cause of severe gastroenteritis in infants and young children, especially in the winter months. The outbreak seems to be a seasonal occurrence, said Dr. Kumar, noting that 163 cases were reported in January last year.

‘Approximately 30 stool samples have been tested for organisms each month and the outbreak appears not to be of bacterial origin. It appears to be viral in origin, such as the Rotavirus or Norwalk virus (although not yet confirmed). We have to send samples overseas for viral studies and it is not always possible to identify specific viruses’ said Dr. Kumar.

Persons contract the germs by consuming contaminated foods and/or water, or by breathing contaminated air. A lack of adequate hygiene, especially after using the toilet, can also enable transmission through close contact with infected persons.

The germs are passed in stools, usually for one week. Therefore, if a child passes stools indiscriminately, or if disposable diapers are left in open garbage containers, flies may transfer germs from the stools to food and other articles. In addition, some viruses live in the respiratory secretions of infected children, and may thus enter the atmosphere.

To stem the outbreak of diarrhoeal disease, the Public Health Department has issued these guidelines:

Healthy persons should stay away from those who are ill.

Sick children should be kept away from schools or nurseries for one week from onset of first symptoms

Good personal hygiene must be maintained, especially after using the toilet.

Anyone who attends to a sick person should wash his or her hands with soap and water and if possible, antiseptics such as Dettol or Savlon.

Control flies by ensuring sanitary premises, including proper collection and disposal of garbage.

Drinking water must be safe; use desalinated, bottled or boiled water.

Disinfect cisterns by adding 2½ ounces of bleach for each 1,000 gallons of water in the cistern.

Soiled disposable diapers of your affected children should be placed in a garbage bag and securely tied. The bag should then be placed into a covered container for collection.

Toilets should be disinfected after use, so that other persons will not contract the illness.

For more information, call the Public Health Department on 244-2630 or 244-2621, or Faith Hospital on 948-2243. For assistance with cisterns, call the Department of Environmental Health on 949-6696 in Grand Cayman or 948-2321 on the Brac.

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