Frequently Asked Questions about Viruses, Bacteria and Parasites in the Digestive Tract
How does a child usually come in contact with bacteria, viruses or parasites that cause diarrhea?
- When touching the stool of an infected person (such as when touching soiled diapers)
- When touching an object contaminated with the stool of an infected person, and then ingesting the germs–this usually occurs by touching the mouth with a contaminated hand (can occur at day care centers or at home in areas where diapered babies play)
- By ingesting contaminated food or water.
Why is infection with these organisms a concern?
Viruses, bacteria and parasites that invade the digestive tract usually cause diarrhea. Large amounts of water can be lost with the diarrhea. Children become dehydrated much quicker than adults, and this can lead to serious problems if fluids are not replaced. Infections caused by parasites and bacteria may need treatment with medications.
Children with a severely weakened immune system are at an increased risk for more serious side effects from the diarrhea. These children include those with HIV/AIDS, cancer or inherited diseases that affect the immune system. Transplant patients who are taking certain immunosuppressive drugs are also at increased risk for more severe symptoms that could lead to serious illness.
Can my child get germs from food?
Almost everyone has experienced a foodborne illness at some point in time. Contrary to popular belief, foodborne illnesses can occur when food is prepared at a restaurant or at home. If food is handled and prepared safely, most foodborne illnesses can be avoided.
All food may contain some natural bacteria, and improper storage or handling gives the bacteria a chance to grow. Also, food can be contaminated with bacteria from other sources that can make people sick. Contaminated or unclean food can be very dangerous, especially to children. According to the CDC, each year foodborne illnesses kill 3,000 people of all ages. They also cause fever, stomach cramps, vomiting and diarrhea in an estimated 48 million Americans.
Four major tips recommended by the CDC to prevent contaminating food
- Use caution when buying food:
– When at the grocery store, pick up perishable food such as meat, eggs and milk at the very end of your shopping, so they will stay cool.
– Take food home right away so that it does not spoil in a hot car.
– Avoid raw or unpasteurized milk.
– Because eggs, meat, seafood and poultry are most likely to contain bacteria, do not allow their juices to drip on other food.
- Store food properly:
– Store eggs, raw meat, poultry and seafood in the refrigerator.
– A refrigerator should be set between 32 degrees F and 40 degrees F.
– A freezer should be set at or below 0 degrees F.
– Regularly clean and disinfect the refrigerator and freezer.
– Use containers to prevent contaminating other foods or kitchen surfaces. Do not store food uncovered in the refrigerator or freezer.
- Use special precautions when preparing and cooking food:
– Wash your hands and clean and disinfect kitchen surfaces before, during and after handling, cooking and serving food.
– Defrost frozen food on a plate either in the refrigerator or in a microwave, but not on the counter.
– Cook food immediately after defrosting.
– Use different dishes and utensils for raw foods than you use for cooked foods.
– Wash raw fruits and vegetables before eating them.
- Cool and promptly store leftovers after food has been served:
– Because harmful bacteria grow at room temperature, keep hot food hot and keep cold food cold. This is especially important during picnics and buffets.
– Do not leave perishable foods out for more than two hours.
– Promptly refrigerate or freeze leftovers in shallow containers or wrapped tightly in bags.