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If in doubt, don’t eat it

india Updated: Jul 19, 2012 12:11 IST
Gastroenteritis cases

Children-play-in-floodwaters-near-a-street-food-stall-near-the-Chao-Phraya-river-in-central-Bangkok-AFP

The combination of monsoon showers and children going back to school has doubled gastroenteritis cases in the Capital this week.

Heat and humidity are just the combination that bacteria, viruses and parasites need to proliferate, causing food and water-bourne outbreaks. While there is no reliable data on gastroenteritis cases in India each year, diarrhoea accounts for half of India’s infant mortality rate of 47 deaths per 1,000 births in 2010.

Apart from safe water, you have to be careful of the quality of meats and milk and its products in this weather, say experts. Meats, milk, yoghurt and cheeses like paneer spoil very quickly, so eating them freshly cooked at home is the safest bet. As far as possible, eat heat food before eating as it is the most effective way to kill bacteria in food.

Heating works most of the time, but not always. Stale rice is a leading cause of gastroenteritis in India. Cooked rice harbours food-poisoning bacteria called Bacillus cereus, which forms a hard outer coating (spore) to protect itself from heat. When cooked rice is cooled, she explained, the spores germinate, producing more bacteria that produce toxins. Re-heating rice destroys some of the bacteria but not the toxins, which cause stomach upsets.

The causes of food contamination can be one of many. It can be micro-organisms such as Salmonella, Campylobacter, E Coli, cholera; parasites (such as Fasciola, Echinococcus, Taenia solium); and naturally-occurring bio-toxins (such as mesotoxins in rice and mycotoxins in fungi).

If the cause is bacterial, antibiotics such as norfloxacin and ofloxacin are prescribed, along with ornidazole for cramps. If the cause of the disease is a virus, you have to just replenish the water lost and wait for the infection to get over in four to five days.

Usually, drinking water with salt and sugar is enough, but you need a doctor if the acute

diarrhoea and vomiting doesn’t allow you to drink or eat at all for more than 24 hours, or the fever stays high (over 102 degree Celcius) with headache, abdominal cramps and vomiting.