Following the recent floods, the Department of Health has warned against the outbreak of certain diseases. One of those which people have to watch out for, aside from respiratory ailments, is diarrhea, especially among children.
The warning reminded me of an often-overlooked cheap and simple remedy for diarrhea, even among adults.
Having covered the health beat and having been a consultant for the information office of the World Health Organization (WHO) for a few years, I have learned a lot about oral rehydration therapy (ORT) and have become a great believer in its efficacy in the management of diarrhea.
As medical experts have pointed out, what kills in diarrhea is the loss of body fluids and nutrients. People die from dehydration and lack of nutrition. Children are particularly vulnerable because their young bodies have little of those things yet. But even adults can succumb to the disease if they do not replenish the lost fluids.
This is why patients who are brought to the hospital are immediately given intravenous fluids.
Fortunately for parents with young children and for grownups, too, ready-to-drink oral rehydration solutions are now available in drugstores and they are reasonably priced. For children, there are ready-to-drink pediatric oral rehydration solutions (ORS); for adults, the solution is in a tablet that they can dissolve in water.
Instead of spending money on anti-diarrheal drugs, I would strongly urge people, particularly parents, to ensure ORS is always available in their homes. Anti-diarrheal drugs can get in the way of curing diarrhea. They keep the body from expelling whatever foreign organism is causing the disease. Better to let the disease take its natural course, but make sure to keep replenishing lost fluids.
Relief groups distributing medicines should include ORS both for children and adults in the packages they give victims of floods and other calamities.
I hardly take any anti-diarrheal medicine, but I try to always have the soluble ORS at home. And it has been very helpful even for sick pets that are unable to eat.
If you do not have the pre-formulated ORS at home and are unable to buy it because of the floods, you can try making it yourself. All the ingredients needed to prepare homemade ORS are readily available in your kitchen—water, sugar and salt.
The website http://rehydrate.org/solutions/homemade.htm gives instructions on how to prepare and administer correctly the rehydration solution, which it calls “the most effective, least expensive way to manage diarrheal dehydration.”
Some health experts are reluctant to recommend home-made formulations because the sizes of teaspoons and tablespoons for household use vary. You should probably ask drugstores if they sell standard spoons for medical use. Certain medications come with their own spoons so you may want to keep those for future use.
Use only water for ORS but make sure it is clean. Boil the water, if necessary, before you prepare the ORS. Do not boil the solution. Make sure to wash your and the sick child’s hands before administering the ORS.
The website stresses that diarrhea usually stops in three or four days. If it does not stop during that period, then it is time to consult a trained health worker.
Breastfeeding should continue even during diarrheal episodes. In fact, it is important to continue breastfeeding a sick child. If the child has started to eat, then solid food should continue to be given.
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