What are enteric diseases?

Enteric diseases are infections caused by viruses and bacteria that enter the body through the mouth or intestinal system, primarily as a result of eating, drinking, and digesting contaminated food or liquid. Direct contact with contaminated feces or vomit is a secondary method of contracting enteric disease. The name of this class of diseases is derived from the Greek word enteron , which means intestine. Cholera, typhoid fever, salmonella, and Escherichia coli, or E. coli, are some of the most common enteric diseases.

Stomach pain, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting are the typical side effects of enteric diseases. Death, however, is also possible. Even if a strong immune system tries to fend off pathogens, diarrhea and nausea can cause severe dehydration. Depending on whether the infection is mild, moderate, or severe, an enteric illness can last for days, weeks, months, or even years, leading to constant malnutrition and poor absorption of medications.

In general, young children, infants, people with disabilities, and the elderly are at greatest risk of contracting enteric diseases due to a weakened immune system. Leisure travelers to foreign countries may also be sensitive to bacteria in food and water abroad. Health care workers, whether abroad or in their own countries, can also be exposed to enteric pathogens from the blood, feces, and vomit of patients. Military employees abroad and relief personnel responding to natural disasters also face increased risks of enteric disease.

Occasionally, diners are exposed to outbreaks of enteric disease when foodborne viruses or bacteria contaminate food in fast food establishments, buffet restaurants, and even grocery markets. Fecal matter from animals or food handlers can infect homegrown or imported food despite government regulations. Enteric diseases, because they spread easily, have the ability to affect large populations throughout the world. World health organizations often collaborate and share strategies or safeguards to prevent mass poisonings and the rapid spread of infection. These safeguards occasionally include quarantines and travel bans, especially when a communicable disease has been linked to a pattern of death.

Vaccines are often effective in preventing enteric infections. Antibacterial cleaning agents have been shown to be mildly to moderately effective in preventing contamination from mouth-to-mouth contact. These cleaning agents have also been cited as a factor in many enteric pathogens becoming stronger and more resistant to antibacterial drugs. During treatment of an infected person, doctors often rely on antimicrobial drugs to prevent fluid loss, strengthen the immune system, and repair body tissues ravaged by enteric disease.

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