Ag. Public Health Communications Specialist
Ministry of Health and Social Development
Telephone: 468-3701 ext. 852 7742
The Ministry of Health and Social Development has issued a health alert as a result of an increased level of gastroenteritis reported in the Territory.
According to the Public Health officials, Gastroenteritis is an inflammation of the lining of the stomach and small and large intestines. The condition is very contagious and can spread rapidly and easily from person to person. The pathogens or germs that cause gastroenteritis can be transmitted through contaminated food or water, directly from person to person, and through airborne particles circulating in the air.
The levels reported by the ministry are above the baseline threshold that has led to a cause for concern. The Public Health and Environmental Health Division is currently investigating the cause in order to limit the spread.
Persons infected with gastroenteritis are contagious from the moment they begin feeling ill to at least three days after recovery. The illness often begins suddenly, but is typically brief, with symptoms lasting one or two days. Symptoms include: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach discomfort. Some people may also experience a low-grade fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, and fatigue.
Most people improve in 24-48 hours, and have no long-term health conditions. However, if dehydration occurs due to vomiting and diarrhea, or symptoms persist more than 72 hours, please seek medical attention. Dehydration is usually little more than an inconvenience to an otherwise healthy adult but can be deadly for people who are very young, elderly or immune compromised.
Affected persons may be contagious for as long as two weeks after recovery. Therefore, it is important to use good hand washing and cleaning practices.
Persons can also decrease their chances of becoming infected with gastroenteritis or spreading the virus by following these preventive steps:
1) Properly wash your hands, especially after using the restroom, after changing diapers, and before eating or preparing food.
2) If you are ill, stay home from work and school, especially if you work in food-handling, healthcare, or child care.
3) Thoroughly clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces immediately after an episode of illness by using a solution of 1/3 cup bleach per one gallon of water (50:1 dilution).
4) Immediately remove and wash clothing or linens that may be contaminated after an episode of illness (use hot water and soap).
5) Flush or discard any vomit and/or stool in the toilet. Clean and disinfect the surrounding area.
If one suspects that they are ill with gastroenteritis, they should drink plenty of fluids, like water and use oral rehydration salts (ORS), to prevent dehydration. Persons who work in food-handling, healthcare, or child care should not attend work while they are ill and should not return to work until 72 hours after symptoms stop.
If persons experience dehydration and symptoms lasts more than 72 hours and/or their symptoms worsen (e.g. observe blood in your stool) this may be indicative of a more serious gastrointestinal infection and should contact their primary healthcare provider.
The Ministry of Health and Social Development aspires to provide a caring and integrated system of health and social services that facilitates the recovery of human development and quality of life in the British Virgin Islands.