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What is Enterocolitis?

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  • Written By: J.M. Willhite
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 06 September 2016
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Enterocolitis, also known as salmonella enterocolitis, is an infection of the small intestine resulting from exposure to the salmonella bacteria. Individuals who become infected may exhibit symptoms in as little as eight hours following exposure and remain symptomatic for up to five days. Severe cases of infection can lead to life-threatening conditions, including blood poisoning.

A common form of food poisoning, enterocolitis generally results from the ingestion of salmonella-contaminated food and water. The bacteria thrive in unsanitary conditions, especially where food preparation and storage are concerned. There are additional sources and situations which contribute to the presence of salmonella bacteria, allowing it to flourish.

Foods such as shell fish and poultry which are not prepared correctly are only one method of exposure to the bacteria. Individuals in households with family members who have recently been infected with salmonella or who have recently recovered from gastroenteritis may be at an increased risk of exposure to the bacterium. Certain popular reptilian pets, such as turtles and lizards, are common carriers for the salmonella bacterium, so hand washing should occur prior to and after handling these types of pets.

Infected individuals may develop a variety of symptoms following exposure. Symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, and fever. Individuals may also experience abdominal pain and cramping, chills, and diarrhea. Though infection may last up to two weeks, individuals are generally symptomatic for up to five days before showing signs of improvement.

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A diagnosis of enterocolitis is usually confirmed through a physical examination and the administration of one or more tests. During a physical examination, the attending physician may check for signs of tenderness or rash on the individual's abdomen. Tests conducted to confirm enterocolitis may include Widal's test and a stool culture. The Widal's test is a blood test that measures the level of specific antibodies, known as agglutinins, to ascertain the presence of infection. A stool culture involves the collection of fecal matter that is sent to a laboratory for testing.

Treatment for enterocolitis involves the replacement of electrolytes and fluids that have been depleted due to diarrhea. Antidiarrheal medications and electrolyte-replenishing solutions are administered to restore balance to the individual's system. In cases where symptoms have increased in severity, an antibiotic regimen may be prescribed. A change in diet is often recommended to aid with the alleviation of symptoms. To promote the bulking of stool, individuals may be advised to avoid products such as milk, certain fruits, and grains until symptoms subside.

The most common complication associated with enterocolitis is dehydration, which can become life-threatening if left untreated. It is essential that individuals continue to consume liquids while they are symptomatic. Blood poisoning, known as septicemia, is a life-threatening condition that may result from severe cases of enterocolitis. Additionally, bacterial infection can also result in the swelling and irritation of the membranes surrounding the spinal cord and brain, known as meningitis.

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