What are Enteric Diseases?

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  • Written By: Synthia L. Rose
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 10 September 2019
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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.


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Post 4

@JaneAir - Vaccination might be a good idea, but I think we need safer food handling practices. I've read recently about a lot of cases of E. coli in factory farmed food.

It seems like if there are that many cases of food poisoning, we must be doing something wrong. I think it's time for a major overhaul of a our farming system and some serious evaluation of our health and safety practices.

Post 3

I think we really ought to consider full scale vaccination against enteric diseases in the US. If there is a possibility of factory farmed food being contaminated, we should be protected.

As the article said, enteric diseases can be pretty serious. They can even cause death! And also, even if the end result isn't death, the person still misses work and may have to utilize medical care. I think it would be worthwhile for people to get vaccinated to prevent this!

Post 2

@SailorJerry - Those thermometers look so cool! I don't cook quite enough to justify the expense, though. My father has one that he uses every year when he makes a standing rib roast for Christmas Eve dinner. He likes to serve it super-rare so he cooks at a very low temperature, but the thermometer makes sure it gets to at least a minimum safe level. (Personally, I feel more comfortable with the end pieces as they are more cooked!)

Another good idea with chicken is to rinse it before you cook it, according to my Betty Crocker "beginner" cookbook. You run it under cold water, then pat it dry with paper towels. Kind of a pain, but reduces the chance of illness.

People who yearn for the "good old days" forget how much harder life used to be. At least we don't have to worry about water-born diseases like cholera anymore!

Post 1

People don't realize how common salmonella and diseases like that can be. A friend of mine got salmonella from chicken she cooked in her own home. She thought it looked done, but she hadn't used a meat thermometer.

She was quite sick but is on her way to a full recovery. The doctor told her that a lot of what people call "stomach flu" is actually food poisoning! She has also learned since then that virtually all commercially processed chicken in the US is contaminated with salmonella because of the way it is handled and packaged.

I went right out and bought a very fancy meat thermometer. I like to make roasts and big things like that, so I got a thermometer that stays in the meat. It has a cord that connects to a little display that sits on top of the stove so I can always see what temperature the meat's at!

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