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Spike in Viral Gastroenteritis

An unusually high number of gastroenteritis cases reported in the past two weeks has prompted the Public Health Department to issue a public health advisory regarding the situation.

"Usually, we see between 15 and 25 cases of gastroenteritis per week at the Health Services Authority facilities. In the winter months each year, we note an increase in gastroenteritis cases of viral origin. However, during the past two weeks there were more than 60 cases per week," said Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kiran Kumar.

"Since Sunday, 5 February, about 67 people sought medical attention at the Health Services Authority facilities. Both children and adults are affected: Of the 67 people, 28 were under 5 years old. In total, 18 children (14 of whom were under 5) were admitted to our paediatric ward for medical care. All are doing well and based on the patients' symptoms it appears to be viral gastroenteritis," Dr. Kumar clarified.

Public health officials will continue to monitor the incidence of gastroenteritis, he noted.

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.

"We are testing stool samples to identify the virus or bacteria which are causing the 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; stay away from work until 48 hours after the symptoms have stopped.
  • 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 or sanitary advice, call the Department of Environmental Health on 949-6696 in Grand Cayman or 948-2321 on the Brac.

For further information contact: Cornelia Oliver