Peak in gastroenteritis cases on St. Maarten

POSTED: 10/9/15 3:27 PM

St. Maarten (DCOMM) – The Collective Prevention Services (CPS) department is calling on the community to take preventive measures against gastroenteritis.

For the third quarter of 2015, an increase in cases has been observed.  In the epidemiological week 36, there were nine reported cases affecting children under five-years of age.  This is the second peak for 2015, with the first peak reported in the first quarter of the year.

Gastroenteritis is the inflammation of the stomach and intestine, which is usually due to acute infection by viruses or bacteria or to food-poisoning toxins that causes vomiting and diarrhea. Fluid loss is sometimes severe especially in infants, and intravenous fluid replacement may be necessary.

Based on the observed peak, CPS is advising day care centers and all other sectors within the economy that are in the food preparation business to take additional measures with respect to food safety and handling and hygienic practices. 

Viral gastroenteritis can comprise of one of the following viruses, rotavirus, enteric adenoviruses, astroviruses and caliciviruses including Norwalk-like viruses.

Viral agents such as Norwalk-like viruses are also common causes of epidemics of gastroenteritis among children and adults. The epidemiology, natural history and clinical expression of enteric viral infections are best understood for type A rotavirus in infants and Norwalk agent in adults and this is only known or confirmed with laboratory testing.  This could not be established for either observed peaks as no samples with typing requests were submitted to the laboratory.

The associated symptoms are diarrhea, stomach cramps, vomiting, nausea, fever and headache.  The most common symptoms are vomiting and repeated episodes of diarrhea (three or more episodes within 24 hours). 

The causes and treatment of gastroenteritis can differ between children and adults. The latter is a preventive measure to ensure proper food safety, handling and public health.

The most common causes of gastroenteritis in adults are the norovirus and food poisoning and it is self-limiting.

The infection can spread when bacteria found in faeces or vomit is transferred to other objects such as play toys used as part of an education or recreation program of a young child.  Bacteria can be transferred through poor hygiene. It is spread through contamination of hands, objects or food infected with the aforementioned.  The virus enters your body via your mouth.  Viral gastroenteritis may also be spread through coughing and sneezing.

For example, if someone does not wash their hands after going to the toilet or handling feces as a caretaker or assistant, any viruses or bacteria on their hands will be transferred to whatever they touch, such as glass, kitchen utensil or food.

To prevent the spread of the infection, wash your hands thoroughly after going to the toilet and before eating, cleaning feces/vomit, or preparing food; clean the toilet, including the seat and handle, with disinfectant after each bout of vomiting or diarrhea; don’t share towels, cutlery and utensils with other household members; and don’t return to work until 48 hours have passed since your last bout of vomiting or diarrhea.

Consult your family physician if you have the vomiting/diarrhea so you can be referred to the lab to get a confirmation on the diagnosis and the virus type.

Practicing good food, hand and cough hygiene will help you to avoid getting gastroenteritis from food poisoning.  You should regularly wash your hands, surfaces and utensils with hot, soapy water; never store raw food and cooked foods together; avoid cross contamination of foods; make sure that food is properly refrigerated; always cook your food thoroughly; and never eat food that is past its sales date, therefore check food labels.  Recalling your last food intake and the time line before the onset of your symptoms will help to identify the source.

Consult your family doctor for additional information and accurate diagnosis, your doctor may consider blood and stool tests to determine the cause of the vomiting and diarrhea.

For more information call CPS at 542-2078, 542-3003 or

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