What is gastroenteritis?

Gastroenteritis (& Food Handling)

It is the term used for a stomach upset that involves diarrhoea and/or vomiting. Gastroenteritis can be caused by a number of different reasons or infections, ranging from the mild, such as spicy or unfamiliar food or food poisoning, to severe, such as typhoid or cholera. Severe causes of gastroenteritis are rare in the UK, but common in developing countries, such as India. Most severe infections are caused by viruses, which cannot be treated with antibiotics.

What are the symptoms?
Symptoms usually come on very suddenly. They include:
* Appetite loss

* Nausea or vomiting

* Diarrhoea

* Fever

What should I do?
In most cases you should rest at home until you are free of infection. You should keep warm and drink plenty of fluids, which should include sugar and salt if you are vomiting or have diarrhoea a lot. The guidelines are four level teaspoons of sugar and a quarter of a teaspoon of salt for every pint (half a litre) of liquid drunk. Solid food should be avoided until symptoms stop. It is important to observe high standards of cleanliness at all times to reduce the risk of the infection spreading to other people in the family. This is particularly important if other family members are pregnant, or very young or very old. In some severe cases you may be admitted to hospital.

What if I prepare food?
If you handle raw or cooked food for people outside your family, whether you do it voluntarily or as part of your job, then you must not work with food until you are free of symptoms or other people might get gastroenteritis from you. This is considered to be at least 48 hours after your last episode of vomiting or diarrhoea. However, it is fine to carry on working if you handle food that is wrapped, canned, or bottled because the infection can not be spread through packaging.

What will the doctor do?
Your doctor will ask you for a stool sample and send it off to be tested if the gastroenteritis persists for five days or is very severe. Some infections spread very easily and, in this country, you will need to avoid working with food until you have had the all clear from the doctor. To do this, the doctor will need to keep sending your stools off for testing at regular intervals until they are clear of infection. Most severe infections need a minimum of two clear stool samples (typhoid needs six) before you can be given the all clear. However, you should also talk to your employers, who may have their own guidelines about when you are allowed to return to handling food (it may be a longer period of time than your doctor prescribes, in which case they should cover your wages for the extra time).

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