Tips to keep bacterial gastroenteritis at bay

Wash and prepare food thoroughly, cook raw dishes like eggs, vegetables, and meat until they’re well done. / Net photo

Bacterial gastroenteritis happens when bacteria cause an infection in the gut, which leads to inflammation in the stomach and intestines.

Health experts say it can be seen when through symptoms like vomiting, severe abdominal cramps, and diarrhoea, which are the most common signs.




Dr Janvier Rusizana, a general practitioner at Clinique La Triade in Remera, says while viruses cause many gastrointestinal infections, bacterial infections are also common.


He says bacterial gastroenteritis can be a result of poor hygiene.

Also, the infection can occur after close contact with animals or consuming food or water contaminated with bacteria (or the toxic substances bacteria produce).

“A person can get bacterial gastroenteritis after eating contaminated food, drinking, or swallowing contaminated water. Food can become contaminated without proper storage, handling, and cooking,” he says.

The contaminated food, he says, can be possibly from restaurants, homes, supermarkets, or grocery stores.

Rusizana says bacterial gastroenteritis spreads quickly from person to person.

He points out that one can also get the bacteria on their hands by handling contaminated food or water. Harmful bacteria are also present in the stools of people with bacterial gastroenteritis.

“These people are capable of spreading them when they touch surfaces, objects, or other people,” he observes.

For this reason, he says, anyone with bacteria on their hands risks becoming ill if they transfer them to their mouth, eyes, or other openings on the body.

Rusizana advises that it is essential for everyone to wash their hands thoroughly after handling food or using the bathroom.

Signs and symptoms

Experts say in healthy adults, bacterial gastroenteritis infections are not that alarming and most of the time last less than a week.

However, they say that older adults or very young children are more vulnerable to symptoms of gastroenteritis and are at higher risk of complications.

Rusizana says these individuals should be closely monitored, as they may need medical care to avoid further complications.

Dr Charles Sindabimenya, a specialist in internal medicine at Doctors Plaza in Kimironko, says bacterial gastroenteritis symptoms vary depending on the bacteria causing the infection.

He mentions that the most common ones include loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain and cramps, fever as well as blood in the stool.

He says that it’s vital to observe the symptoms carefully, and most importantly, consult health practitioners if they become persistent.

For instance, Sindabimenya says, there is cause for alarm if the symptoms don’t go away after five days for adults and two days in children.

Risk factors

Joseph Uwiragiye, the head of the nutrition department at University Teaching Hospital of Kigali (CHUK), says if one has a weak immune system because of an existing condition or treatment, they may have a higher risk of bacterial gastroenteritis.

The risk, he says, also increases if one takes drugs that decrease stomach acidity.

The nutritionist says that handling food the wrong way can also raise the risk of bacterial gastroenteritis.

He notes that food that’s undercooked, stored too long at room temperature, or not reheated well can aid in the spread and survival of bacteria.

He explains that bacteria can produce harmful substances known as toxins; these toxins can remain even after reheating food.


Dr Rusizana says the treatment for bacterial gastroenteritis is meant to keep one hydrated and avoid complications.

He explains that it’s important not to lose too much salt, such as sodium and potassium, adding that body needs these in certain amounts in order to function properly.

In complicated situations of bacterial gastroenteritis, one may be given fluids and salts.

For the severe cases, he says antibiotics are used.

Besides medications, he says home remedies can be used especially for mild cases.

For instance, Rusizana says, one of the remedies include drinking fluids regularly throughout the day, especially after bouts of diarrhoea.

Also, eating little and often, and including some salty foods can help.

Consuming foods or drinks with potassium, such as fruit juice and bananas is important to avoid bacterial gastroenteritis.

He, however, cautions that one shouldn’t use over the counter medicine without a prescription from a medical expert.

On the other hand, Uwiragiye notes that ginger can help combat infection and make stomach or abdominal pain less severe.

Also, apple cider vinegar can as well soothe the stomach and strengthen the stomach against future infections.

To keep diarrhoea from getting worse, he says to avoid eating dairy, fruit, or a high-fibre food.


Rusizana says if one is already having gastroenteritis, taking safety precautions to avoid spreading the bacteria to others is vital.

He says washing hands after using the toilet and before handling food is important.

“Avoiding preparing food for other people until the symptoms improve can help prevent the spread of this infection. Also, avoiding close contact with others during the illness is essential,” he says.

Bacterial gastroenteritis infections can be kept at bay by avoiding unpasteurised milk. Also, keeping the kitchen consistently clean is important.

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