By John McElligott, MD
You have a quick lunch at a little café across the road from the truck stop. Soon after, you’re a little sweaty, nauseated, and need to find a toilet pronto. Food poisoning? Probably. Truckers are at high risk for a “gut bomb” – but that’s not the only thing that can give you a bad belly. Let’s take a look.
I got sick to my stomach about an hour after eating lunch. The urgent care clinic near the truck stop told me it was something called gastroenteritis, but I am sure it was food poisoning.
First, gastroenteritis is the term we doctors use for infection or inflammation of the mucous membrane of the digestive tract. It describes what you have, while food poisoning describes how you got it. Food poisoning is a problem likely caused by something you ate.
Bacterial causes of gastroenteritis include E. coli (traveler’s diarrhea, food poisoning, dysentery, colitis, or uremic syndrome); shigella (also causes dysentery); salmonella (from improperly handling poultry or reptiles); and campylobacter (from undercooked meat or unpasteurized milk).
Is there such a thing as just plain old stomach (or intestinal) flu?
Well, there’s a problem with calling it flu. It has no relation to the influenza virus, but it could be a virus. In fact, viral and bacterial are the two main types of gastroenteritis. Viral causes, which account for about 35 percent of cases in children, include “bugs” like adenovirus, rotavirus, calicivirus, parvovirus, astrovirus and norovirus (which is a leading cause in adults). Viral gastroenteritis is usually brought about by poor hand-washing habits or close contact with an infected person.
Are there other causes of gastroenteritis?
Additional causes of gastroenteritis are parasites or protozoans; chemical toxins; heavy metals such as arsenic, lead and mercury; and medications such as antibiotics, aspirin, caffeine, steroids and laxatives. Another common cause of bellyache is lactose intolerance, the inability to digest the milk sugar lactose.
When should I get to the doctor?
If you have diarrhea along with a high fever, diarrhea for more than three days, blood in your stools, or so much vomiting you can’t keep liquids down – get to the doctor. If you show signs of dehydration, like having to urinate less, dry mouth and throat and dizziness – check your temperature. (By the way, you should always carry an oral thermometer in the truck.) If it’s over 101.5 degrees, see your physician or, if you’re on the road, find a clinic. LL