Gastrointestinal Infections Sometimes, diarrhea is simply due to some part of our recent diet that didn't agree with our bodies or an illness our body is fighting off. Other times, however, it is due to ingestion of a microbe that can potentially make us sick for many days, inducing watery diarrhea, vomiting, fever, and other unpleasant symptoms. There are many viruses, parasites, and bacteria that can infect our gastrointestinal systems if we happen to consume them. Symptoms of Gastrointestinal Infections In addition to diarrhea and vomiting, gastroenteritis can also cause fever, abdominal cramping, and loss of appetite. If this lasts for several days, weight loss and dehydration can occur. In some cases, there may be mucus or blood visible in the stool, as well. If the symptoms do not clear within a few days or if you find blood in your stool, you should contact your doctor. Risk Factors of Gastrointestinal Infections The biggest risk during a gastrointestinal infection is dehydration. Because the vomiting and diarrhea are so unpleasant, it may be tempting to stop taking in liquids. It is critically important to stay hydrated, however, particularly for young children and infants. Fevers should also be monitored in children with these infections, as excessively high body temperature could lead to seizures. Depending on the pathogen, gastrointestinal infections can also be extremely contagious. Any small quantity of germs may easily infect another person via a door knob, sink spigot, or contaminated food or water. Very frequent hand washing is highly recommended. If you can avoid going to work while suffering from such an illness (or keeping your child at home during their illness), you are advised to do so to avoid spreading it to others. Although it may be difficult to contain when sharing a home with another person, confining the ill person's toilet use to a single bathroom may also avoid spreading the infection. Causes of Gastrointestinal Infections Through excellent hygiene, clean drinking water, and safe food preparation, most gastrointestinal infections can be avoided. Most infections occur through what is called the fecal-oral route, in which trace amounts of infected fecal particles are consumed. Although this sounds impossible in a society with good sanitation systems, something as simple as poor hand washing habits after using the restroom can spread diseases to other people through door knobs, shared hand towels, or direct contact. If the recipient happens to touch their mouth or touch and eat food, they may become infected. Certainly, infected food preparation areas (or food preparers) in restaurants are also a potential sources of illness.
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