UHS offers practical advice for avoiding gastrointestinal illness

February 16, 2012

Spring is a busy time for Penn State students. Spring break and final exams all are quickly approaching. University Health Services (UHS) offers some practical tips for avoiding gastrointestinal illness during this busy time -- and how to avoid passing it on to others, too.

Gastrointestinal (GI) illnesses, which include the symptoms of nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, and/or diarrhea, may have a number of causes including adenoviruses and noroviruses, bacteria such as campylobacter and salmonella from improper food handling, and protozoa such as Giardia from contaminated water.

Although GI illnesses can occur at any time of the year, these illnesses caused by viruses tend to occur more frequently during the cold weather months. Typically symptoms dissipate within 24-48 hours. Vomiting or diarrhea that continues for longer than two days or is accompanied by a fever should be evaluated by a clinician. Drinking clear liquids such as tea, clear broth and sports drinks can help to prevent dehydration.

To prevent the spread of illness to others, individuals are advised to stay home and rest until symptoms improve. Classrooms, social activities (including THON) and contact with others should be avoided. Although frequent hand cleaning with alcohol-based hand sanitizers is an effective way to prevent infection, hand washing with soap and water is the preferred hand cleaning method after using the restroom, before and after preparing food, and after eating, especially if you are currently experiencing GI symptoms. Do not prepare or serve food to others if you are ill. Food service workers should not work around food during the course of illness and for three days following the end of symptoms unless advised otherwise by a healthcare provider.

Many infections, including GI illnesses, may be transmitted by contaminated hands. Frequent hand hygiene is an important step in staying healthy. Use of alcohol-based hand sanitizer is an easy and effective way to prevent infection in most situations. Soap and water are best when hands are visibly dirty, after use of the restroom, and before and after preparing foods. Avoid sharing food, drinks, cigarettes or eating utensils. Avoid intimate contact with those who are not feeling well. Keep your immune system healthy by eating right, getting plenty of sleep and exercising regularly. Proper food preparation and storage can also prevent gastrointestinal illness. Prepare food according to recommended guidelines and refrigerate leftovers immediately after use. If traveling to an area where drinking water safety is questionable, ask for bottled water for drinking and brushing teeth.

For additional information about GI illnesses, visit http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvrd/revb/gastro/faq.htm. For tips on how to get and stay healthy at Penn State, visit www.healthypennstate.psu.edu.

To schedule an appointment for this or other medical concerns, Penn State students can visit myUHS at http://www.sa.psu.edu/uhs or call 814-863-0774.


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Last Updated April 19, 2017