Food and water consumed by people have little to do with sterility. Billions of various bacteria enter our body every day and hour, and absolutely no harm is done as there are too many ways of neutralizing microbes placed at our disposal by the nature. Anti-bacterial properties of saliva, poisonous gastric juice, a large number of “own”, "friendly" bacteria in the intestine - all these do not give outsiders any opportunity to settle down and proceed with their dirty work.
Nevertheless, a man who has never suffered from an intestinal infection simply doesn’t exist - not least because there are many methods of neutralization of all the numerous defences, such as swallowing without chewing, so that saliva has no time to get to microbes, overeating, and neutralizing acidic gastric juice with alkaline drinks, killing germs with antibiotics, etc.
But the main reason for intestinal infections was, is and will be non-observance of simple hygiene - improper storage of food, unwashed hands and flies flying between dining tables and toilets. Ultimately, no matter how good the protective mechanisms of the human body are, there will always be a number of germs, which it is simply impossible to neutralize.
The causative agents of intestinal infections can be bacteria (Shigella dysenteriae, Salmonella, Staphylococcus aureus, typhoid bacillus, vibrio cholera) and some viruses. Multiplying in the gut they both lead, firstly, to disturbances of the digestive process and, secondly, to inflammation of the cells of the intestinal mucosa. The most typical and common consequence of these two processes is the primary symptom of any intestinal infection - diarrhoea. Other symptoms - nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, fever, lack of appetite, and general weakness are less common and don’t necessarily make part of intestinal infections.
It should be noted that intestinal infections differ a lot when considered within household and medical concepts. From the average person’s point of view the mere presence of diarrhoea means an intestinal infection, but to a doctor the route of infection rather than symptoms matters. From the medical point of view, any disease that is transmitted through the mouth (through food, water, unwashed hands of so-called faecal-oral route of infection) is a typical intestinal infection. The most illustrative example is viral hepatitis A (Botkin's disease). Viral infection always occurs when it enters the gastro-intestinal tract, and the liver gets affected, and normally diarrhoea doesn’t come with it.
Methods of intestinal infections’ prevention are fairly straightforward, and can be reduced to the observance of basic hygiene: washing hands thoroughly after using the toilet, thermal treatment of food and water, the observance of food storage rules, isolation of patients and, at the very least, providing them with their own tableware.
Always remember that the most terrible and dangerous consequence of any diarrhoea is the loss of body fluids and salts. The human body can survive without food more or less safely for a couple of weeks, but without an adequate supply of water and salts of potassium, sodium and calcium, every hour counts. Supplies of water and salts are particularly poor in the body of a child, and therefore children’s intestinal infections pose a real threat to their health and life.
Thus, the true severity of intestinal infections is often determined not by frequency of bowel movement, odour and colour of intestinal habits, but by the degree of dehydration. Only a doctor can determine the severity of intestinal infection, but the probability that in each case of diarrhoea people will seek medical help, is very small. Therefore, we emphasize that regardless of the name of the specific intestinal infection, there are very specific rules of patients’ and their relatives’ behaviour.
- You should always try to remember what it was that you ate. It is not so bad, if it is your personal culinary masterpiece, but if it's a cake from a nearby shop, you should demonstrate awareness and think about those who may follow in your footsteps. It doesn’t take much to find out the phone number of the regional sanitary station.
- Intestinal infection of any member of the family shall become an alarm for everyone else. Patient should be supplied with separate utensils and everyone else ought to ensure cleanliness, wash hands thoroughly, remove out of harm's way any suspicious products, all the dishes need to be rinsed with boiling water, not sparing any disinfectants.
- Both diarrhoea and vomiting are methods of your body’s defences. The simplified version looks like this: something wrong got into the gastro-intestinal tract, and the body through all possible ways tries to remove this stuff. Therefore, in the early hours of intestinal infection we are not interested in the diarrhoea and vomiting to stop. On the contrary, in both directions, the body should get help, e.g. we need to drink and vomit (and if you do not want to, to deliberately induce vomiting, thereby washing the stomach), to clean the colon with enemas. For enema use plain boiled water, in any case not warm (optimal temperature of about 20 °C), be sure to force out all the liquid injected.
- The main principle of first aid is replacing the lost fluids and salts. For this purpose medicine, containing pre-prepared mixtures of different salts, which need to be dissolved in boiled water before use (oralit, rehydron, glucosolan) are ideal. In the absence of these drugs it is fine to use stewed fruit compote, or tea (better green than black). In any case, it is better to drink what is at hand (mineral water, herbal teas, rosehip syrup, etc.) than not to drink anything.
- The temperature of the drink should approximately be equal to the temperature of your body, thus the absorption of fluids from the stomach into the blood would happen as fast as possible.
- At persistently repeated vomiting remember to drink more often, but take small portions as to not stretch the stomach and always consult with the doctor with regard to the use of antiemetic drugs (the typical example is Cerucal).
- By and large, there are only two totally secure methods of self-treatment of intestinal infections - hunger and excessive drinking. Any medications can lead to unexpected consequences, except that smectite and activated carbon are appropriate and almost always are advisable.
- Referring to you doctor is obligatory in case of diarrhoea occurring with first year children, and regardless of age, when there is no tendency for improvement in the course of 24 hours.
- Immediately seek medical help if:
- due to persistent vomiting you can’t drink;
- you have no urine for more than 6 hours;
- dry tongue, sunken eyes, skin has a greyish hue;
- there is an admixture of blood in faecal matter;
- the diarrhoea has stopped, but vomiting increased and (or) body temperature sharply raised.
- When your condition improves, don’t rush into eating whatever you can and want. Tea with cottage cheese, rice and oatmeal porridge - give it a day or two, it will be healthier.
Note: timely therapy of intestinal infections does not contemplate swallowing all your favourite Ftalazolom and Laevomycetinum - not least because the cause of a third of diarrhoea is viruses, on which these antibacterial drugs have no effect at all. But even if it is a bacterium, for example Salmonella, it may be appropriate to treat it differently.
It is possible to ingest antibiotics, trying to destroy Salmonella, and simultaneously destroy all of your colon Bacillus, lactic acid bacteria and many other very useful and very necessary microbes. And you can do it differently-"to let" in the intestine some beneficial bacteria, which themselves can "kick out" harmful Salmonella. These drugs, the so-called eubiotics, are produced in a wide variety anywhere around the world. It is not surprising that eubiotics gradually replace antibiotics in treating intestinal infections. Also activated carbon is being replaced with latest enterosorbents, which are hundreds of times more effective.
The main conclusion from the previous paragraph is that modern doctors know plenty of highly effective methods for treating intestinal infections. And it is highly unwise to risk your health, by not leaving the toilet for hours, or, following the advice of neighbours, drink jelly and take ftalazolom.
(Перевод на английский язык статьи Е.О. Комаровского «Кишечные инфекции» , представляющую собой адаптированную к формату публикации главу из книги «Здоровье ребенка и здравый смысл его родственников», любезно сделан Юлией Хейлетт, Центр иностранных языков "Экспресс".)