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HEALTH ARTICLES

A Guide to Protecting the Intestines from Bacterial Infections

Max Lab

Jan 01, 1970

The digestive canal of an individual is susceptible to various kinds of infections, which are generally referred to as the stomach flu or food poisoning. There are various types of intestinal infections, caused by different types of bacteria or other microorganisms, which are collectively called ‘Gastroenteritis’. If left untreated, the complications of gastroenteritis can get pretty severe, leading to conditions like anaemia, intestinal bleeding, Gullain Barre Syndrome, reactive arthritis, etc. Though the treatment of a small or large intestine infection is generally quite effective, there are several preventive measures that can help one avoid infection as well.

Understanding How the Microbiome Works

The human body houses trillions of microorganisms (microbes) of thousands of species, including bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi, that form the body’s microbiome. While most of these microbes can be found in the gut (small and large intestines), they are present throughout the body as well. As is the case with fingerprints, every individual’s network of microbiota, or their microbiome, is completely unique and is determined by their DNA. A person’s first exposure to microorganisms happens in the birth canal, during delivery as well as through the breast milk they are fed.

In a healthy individual, the microbiome functions almost like a supporting organ, playing a significant role in promoting one’s well-being. The microbiome contains both good and bad bacteria, where the good bacteria help maintain a healthy gut lining, stimulate one’s immune system, synthesise certain amino acids and vitamins, break down complex carbohydrates that reach the large intestine, and break down food that is potentially toxic, while also fighting off pathogenic organisms.

What Happens in a Small or Large Intestine Infection?

There are several factors, like environmental exposure, lifestyle, or diet that impact an individual’s microbiome in a way that can be either beneficial or harmful. Disturbance in the balance of good and bad bacteria and germs in the stomach that results in an increase in bad bacteria can significantly affect immunity, making the body susceptible to diseases, and also causing inflammation in the gut.

Types of Intestinal Infections

There are several types of gastroenteritis that can affect an individual and one may develop a viral, parasitic, or bacterial infection in the stomach, based on what causes the intestinal infection.

Viral gastroenteritis is the most common of the three and is also known as the ‘stomach flu’. On the other hand, parasitic infections are the least common and are caused by the helminths and protozoa parasites.

A bacterial infection in the stomach is less common than viral infections, but when caused by certain types of aggressive bacteria, can lead to the most severe complications of gastroenteritis if treatment is not received in time. These types of gastroenteritis can also spread from person to person.

Symptoms of Bacterial Infection in the Stomach

The symptoms of intestinal infection, regardless of its type, may include:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Stomach cramps
  • Vomiting
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Body pain
  • Fever

Proper management of the intestinal infection symptoms is an important part of the treatment of gastroenteritis.

Understanding the Causes of Gastroenteritis

A bacterial infection in the stomach may be caused by bacteria like E. Coli, salmonella, campylobacter, staphylococcus, etc. The most common causes behind a bacterial intestinal infection include:

  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Consuming uncooked or raw food, including dairy products, poultry, meat, etc.
  • Consuming raw or cooked food left outside. The germ-filled food in the stomach can trigger symptoms of intestinal infection.
  • Eating in unhygienic surroundings or eating food that was unhygienically stored.
  • Consumption of contaminated water or food.
  • Sharing food, clothes, etc. with infected persons.
  • Food or water that was in proximity to animal or human waste.

Preventing Bacterial Gastroenteritis

Bacterial infections of the stomach are easily transmittable, and traces of the harmful bacteria even in the stool of an infected person is quite common. It is important to take all necessary precautions when someone is suffering from bacterial gastroenteritis. Other precautionary steps to avoid the development of intestinal infection symptoms include:

  • Wash hands regularly, especially after using the toilet, before handling food, or after touching or handling animals.
  • Using an alcohol-based sanitiser to wash the hands is not possible.
  • Avoid close contact with people who have bacterial gastroenteritis or are displaying symptoms of the same.
  • Use a disinfectant to clean easily contaminated surfaces like the toilet bowl or washbasin.
  • Wash soiled clothes at the earliest, especially if they were soiled by rain or rainwater.
  • On getting drenched in the rain or by muddy water, bathe immediately upon getting home and leave the soiled footwear outside.
  • Avoid street food, especially if served cold.
  • Avoid unhygienic eating places.
  • Keep the kitchen clean.
  • Raw and cooked food should be properly stored in the refrigerator, with fried or processed food being packed in closed containers.
  • Drink bottled water or carry water from home when travelling.
  • Avoid drinking water from unknown sources, unless sure it is pure and clean.
  • At home, drinking water should be treated with RO or UV treatments before consumption.
  • The cutting board should be washed every time, after use.
  • Avoid unpasteurised food.

Seeking Professional Treatment for Gastroenteritis

A doctor must be consulted in the following situations:

  • If the symptoms of the intestinal infection persist for more than a few days.
  • Symptoms of dehydration start occurring.
  • Having a fever above 100 F for more than a few days.
  • Having diarrhoea for more than a couple of days.
  • Severe pain in the rectum or stomach.
  • Bloody or blackened stool.
  • Experiencing sudden changes in mental state.

A doctor may prescribe a blood test for gastroenteritis or a stool culture test to identify the bacteria causing the infection. A stool culture test also checks for bacteria in the stool and the white blood cell count.

If diagnosed in time, the treatment of an infection in the small or large intestine is quite simple and involves oral medication and electrolytes, along with certain dietary changes for mild cases. In severe cases of infection, IV fluids or antibiotics may also be prescribed.

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