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Facts About...


What is it?

Diarrhea is a condition of excessively frequent, loose, watery or semi-liquid bowel movements. As a result the stool will often take the shape of its container. Acute diarrhea normally lasts 24 - 48 hours and then goes away on its own, often without treatment. Prolonged diarrhea persisting for more than 2 days may be indicative of a more serious problem and poses a risk of dehydration. Diarrhea is usually related to a viral, bacterial or parasitic infection, including but not limited to viruses including rotavirus, bacteria such as shigella, and parasites such as giardia and cryptosporidium. Bowel disorders and food sensitivities may also cause diarrhea.

How is it spread?

Viruses and bacteria can survive for long periods of time on hands and for hours to months on environmental surfaces. These germs may be easily spread directly by the fecal-oral route, or indirectly by touching contaminated surfaces and toys/objects. Fecal contamination of the environment is common in child care settings (especially in the infant /toddler areas). Improper handwashing technique, poor personal hygiene and environmental sanitation are contributing factors.

What do I look for?

Diarrhea causes more bowel movements than normal, and stools that are unformed and more watery than usual. A person with diarrhea may also suffer from symptoms of fever, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, cramps, and blood and/or mucus in the stool. Diarrhea can cause dehydration which is particularly dangerous in children and the elderly.

How is it treated?

Diarrhea has many causes. Often, it is caused by a virus and will not respond to antibiotic treatment. Some bacterial diarrhea can be treated with antibiotics as can some parasitic infections. Treatment for diarrhea at the minimum must include rehydration. If replacement fluids are lost (vomit/diarrhea) over a sustained period of time, seek medical attention immediately.

How can I protect myself?

April 8, 2009