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'Gastro' cases hit epidemic levels

Doctors offer hygiene tips to avoid illness, but warn that the number of cases is set to rise over the coming weeks

AN EPIDEMIC of gastroentiritis is sweeping France, with experts also predicting that flu cases are set to rise over the next few weeks.

In the past two weeks, 286,000 cases of acute diarrhoea and sickness were reported to doctors, half of them in the past week alone, according to Sentinelles de l'Inserm
, a network of GPs that collates anonymous real-time data on the spread of communicable illnesses in France.

The number of reported cases was estimated at 219 per 100,000 inhabitants - more than the 194 cases per 100,000 level at which an epidemic is declared.

“This is the second consecutive week exceeded the epidemic threshold, confirming the arrival of the epidemic in France,” Sentinelles said in a statement.

The highest incidence rates have been recorded in Languedoc-Roussillon (389 cases per 100,000 inhabitants), Nord-Pas-de-Calais (380) and Champagne-Ardenne (363).

This latest outbreak does not appear to be serious. The Sentinelles network said just 0.4% of all reported cases required treatment in hospital. But it warned that the number of cases is expected to rise over the next few weeks.

Flu rates remain low, Sentinelles said. "The rate of incidence of influenza-like illness (including the sudden onset of fever of 39C or more, accompanied by myalgia and respiratory signs) seen in general practice was estimated at 69 cases per 100,000, 45,000 new cases below the epidemic threshold (176 cases per 100 000 inhabitants).

Gastroenteritis, often simply known as 'gastro’ in France, is a contagious inflammation of the stomach and intestines caused by a bacterial or viral infection that typically results in vomiting and diarrhoea. The illness can last up to three days.

Doctors advise people to wash their hands regularly, especially before eating or after going to the toilet to avoid falling ill.

If you are affected, it is important to disinfect toilet bowls or sinks - and door handles - after a vomiting episode, or each toilet visit with diarrhoea. Parents of babies should also wash their hands after every nappy change. It is also important to remain hydrated and avoid eating food that is high in fibre.

Photo: Sentinelles de l'Inserm / Screengrab

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