Diarrhoeal disease

Diarrhoeal disease is among the leading causes of death in young children. It can be life-threatening for adults too but children are more vulnerable.

Diarrhoea that is severe and/or lasts several days can cause dangerous dehydration and loss of minerals vital for the healthy functioning of your body. If there’s also another infection, the disease may cause rapid health deterioration. 

Apart from acute diarrhoea, symptoms can include nausea and vomiting, fever, cramps in the belly and there may also be blood or mucus in the stool.

No one can survive without water for longer than around three days. During a diarrhoeal disease, you may not be able to take in much water yet you lose it through watery stools, vomit, sweat, urine and breathing. Dehydration is so dangerous because a number of vital body functions depend on a certain level of water in the body and volume of blood.  

If the infected person is malnourished, which is critical particularly in children, diarrhoeal disease causes further damage and deprives the body of essential nutrients important for growth and survival. 

Diarrhoea is usually a sign of an infection in the gut and can be caused by a variety of bacteria, viruses and parasites. The body is trying to get rid of the infection by emptying and ‘flushing’ the bowels. 

The most common viruses responsible for diarrhoeal disease are rotavirus, norovirus, adenovirus, astrovirus and sapovirus. The main bacteria are Escherichia coliSalmonellaShigella, and Campylobacter. And the parasites most often causing diarrhoea include Cryptosporidium, Giardia, and Entamoeba

Most of the infectious organisms that cause diarrhoea spread through contaminated water. Food can be contaminated as well or you can catch diarrhoeal disease from someone who has it as a result of poor hygiene. Fish and seafood from contaminated water may also be a source of infection.

To prevent diarrhoea, use safe drinking-water or use filtered, boiled water, possibly also use water purification tablets. Always wash your hands with soap before eating or preparing food and after you use a toilet. Plant foods are less likely to be contaminated than meat and animal products but there’s no guarantee.If you do have a diarrhoeal disease, it’s best treated with oral rehydration solution (ORS) and dispersible zinc tablets that shorten the duration of diarrhoea and improve outcomes. However, severe cases and sick children should always be treated by a doctor.