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Strategies to Prevent Dangerous Diarrhea

A prolonged hot season in Cambodia has brought about an increasing number of cases of severe diarrhea, including more than 30 that were fatal.

Diarrhea can be dangerous because it causes dehydration, Taing Tek Hong, a Florida-based physician, said on Thursday.

“You need to drink a lot of water or use oral rehydration solutions,” he said, as a guest on “Hello VOA.”

Rehydration solutions are “a mixture of clean water, salt and sugar, which can be prepared safely at home,” he said. “The glucose in the solution is important because it forces the small intestine to quickly absorb the fluid and minerals.”

“Death can follow severe dehydration if body fluids are not replenished,” he said.

Diarrhea can come from infections caused by bacteria, viruses or parasites in water. Water can be contaminated with human waste from sewage, septic tanks, wells and ponds. Diarrhea can be spread from person to person if they don’t take care of personal hygiene. Food can also cause diarrhea if it is prepared or stored in unclean conditions.

“Fish and seafood from polluted water may also contribute to the disease,” Taing Tek Hong said. “Infection is more common when there is a shortage of clean water for drinking, cooking and cleaning.”

The most common cause of diarrhea is an infection from a virus known as the norovirus,” he said. “It is transmitted by food that is contaminated by sick food-handlers or by infected person. Norovirus spreads very rapidly in communities such as overnight camps, prisons, dormitories and cruise ships. Rotavirus and E. Coli are the two most common causes of diarrhea in developing countries.”

Cholera, meanwhile, is an acute diarrhea caused by an infection of the intestine, he said.

“The persons who have cholera have a loss of body fluids leading to dehydration and a life-threatening medical condition,” he said. “Without treatment, death can occur within hours. A person may get cholera by drinking water or eating food contaminated with the cholera bacterium. The source of the contamination is usually the waste of an infected person. The disease can spread rapidly in areas with inadequate drinking water.”

To prevent diarrhea, Taing Tek Hong recommends drinking only water that has been boiled.

“Other safe beverages include tea, soda, Coca Cola or Sprite with no ice,” he said. “Eat only foods that have been fully cooked and are still hot. Avoid undercooked seafood or shellfish. Make sure all vegetables are cooked.”

And to prevent dehydration, continued feeding and rehydration are important. Zinc tablets can help reduce the severity and duration of diarrhea. And children should be immunized against the rotavirus that can cause the disease.

“Washing your hands with soap could potentially reduce the number of diarrhea cases,” Taing Tek Hong said. “The foundations of good health are safe water, adequate sanitation and proper hygiene.”