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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 foods or liquids. Direct contact with contaminated feces or vomit is a secondary method of contracting enteric ailments. The name for this class of diseases is derived from the Greek word enteron, which means intestine. Cholera, typhoid fever, salmonella and Escherichia coli, or E.coli, infections 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 the pathogens, diarrhea and nausea could cause severe dehydration. Depending on whether the infection is mild, moderate or severe, an enteric disease could last for days, weeks, months or even years, leading to constant malnutrition and poor absorption of medicines.
Generally, young children, babies, people with disabilities and elderly individuals are most at risk for enteric diseases due to weakened immune systems. Leisure travelers to foreign countries may also be sensitive to bacteria in foods and water abroad. Health care workers, whether abroad or in their own countries, may also expose themselves to enteric pathogens from blood, patients’ stools and patients’ vomit. Military employees abroad and relief personnel who respond to natural disasters also face higher risks of enteric diseases.
Occasionally, diners are exposed to epidemics of enteric diseases when food-borne viruses or bacteria contaminate foods at fast-food establishments, buffet-style restaurants and even grocery markets. Fecal matter from animals or food handlers can infect homegrown or imported foods despite government regulations. Enteric diseases, because they are easily spread, have the ability to affect large populations across the world. Global health organizations often collaborate and share strategies or safeguards for preventing mass poisonings and 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 proven mildly to moderately effective in preventing contamination by hand-to-mouth contact. These cleaning agents have also been cited as a factor in many enteric pathogens becoming stronger and more resistant to antibacterial medications. During the course of treating an infected person, physicians often rely on antimicrobial drugs that prevent fluid loss, strengthen the immune system and repair body tissues devastated by the enteric illness.