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Public Health Advisory

An unusually high number of gastroenteritis cases reported in the last month prompted the Public Health Department to issue an update regarding the situation.

"Normally, we see between 15 and 25 cases of gastroenteritis per week at Health Services Authority facilities. However, during the first three weeks in January there have been about 50-70 cases per week. Last week this number has risen to 122," said Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kiran Kumar.

Public health officials continue to monitor the incidence of gastroenteritis illness.

"Both children and adults are affected, and, based on the patients' symptoms it appears to be the norovirus that is causing the current outbreak. In addition, in many cases we found that there have been vomiting alone," Dr. Kumar clarified.

Gastroenteritis is an inflammation of the stomach and the small and large intestine resulting in diarrhoea and vomiting; abdominal cramps; fever; and dehydration. It is caused by a variety of viruses or bacteria, with the most common being the norovirus and rotavirus.

Many Caribbean countries are experiencing gastroenteritis outbreaks. "We will be sending stool samples to CAREC to identify the virus that is causing the local illnesses," Dr. Kumar said.

"Regardless of which virus is causing gastroenteritis, it is passed in stools, usually for one week. In addition, some viruses live in the respiratory secretions of infected children, and may thus enter the atmosphere. It is therefore important to practice good hygiene, especially when a child passes stools indiscriminately. Also, if disposable diapers are used, take extra care when disposing it. If left in open garbage containers, flies may transfer germs from the stools to food and other articles thereby spreading the disease further," explained Dr. Kumar.

To stem the outbreak of diarrhoeal disease, people should follow these guidelines:

  • Avoid contact with those who are ill.
  • Keep sick children out of schools/nurseries for at least one week after the symptoms began.
  • Wash your hands often, especially if you care for a sick person: Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water or use alcohol-based hand cleaner especially after using the toilet. You can also use 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 2 ounces of bleach for each 1,000 gallons of water in the cistern.
  • Soiled disposable diapers should be placed in a garbage bag and securely tied. The bag should then be placed into a securely covered container for collection.
  • Toilets should be disinfected after use by sick persons, so that others will not contract the illness.
  • Do not share towels, cups, or food with sick persons.

For more information, call the Public Health Department on 244-2632 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.

Overcoming Gastroenteritis

There is no medication to kill the virus. The main goal is prevent dehydration by replacing lost fluid due to diarrhoea and vomiting. Recommended fluids are:

  • Pedialyte and other over-the-counter oral rehydration fluids,
  • coconut water,
  • ice chips; and
  • clear sodas, such as 7- Up, Ginger Ale, Sprite or Gatorade.

Do not give fruit juices, milk or other dairy products as these will only worsen symptoms.