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Acute Diarrhoeal Diseases

Acute Diarrhoeal Diseases

21 March 2017

Causative agent

Acute diarrhoea can be caused by a number of different agents. Common infective causative agents include bacteria such as Vibrio parahaemolyticus and Salmonella, and viruses such as norovirus and rotavirus. Less common causative agents include those bacteria causing cholera, bacillary dysentery and Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli infection, etc. Acute diarrhoeal diseases may occur in all ages, but children are more often affected.

Clinical features

Patients with acute diarrhoeal diseases present with sudden onset of frequent loose or watery stools, often accompanied by vomiting and fever. The disease is usually mild with spontaneous recovery. Dehydration and shock may occur in severe cases.

Mode of transmission

Acute diarrhoeal diseases usually spread by contaminated hands or ingestion of contaminated food or drinks, and occasionally by aerosol spread with contaminated droplets of splashed vomitus. Outbreaks may occur in settings like institutions and child care centres.

Incubation period

The incubation period is usually a few hours to 5 days after exposure for bacterial diarrhoea and 1 - 3 days for viral diarrhoea.


Acute diarrhoeal diseases are usually managed by fluid and electrolyte replacement. Patient should consult his/her family doctor for proper management if the diarrhoea is severe. Self-medication is not advisable.


  1. Maintain good personal, food and environmental hygiene. Adopt the 5 Keys to Food Safety in handling food, i.e. Choose (Choose safe raw materials); Clean (Keep hands and utensils clean); Separate (Separate raw and cooked food); Cook (Cook thoroughly); and Safe Temperature (Keep food at safe temperature) to prevent foodborne diseases.
  2. Wash hands thoroughly with liquid soap and water before handling food or eating, and after using the toilet or handling vomitus or faecal matter.
  3. Wear gloves when disposing of vomitus and faeces and wash hands afterwards.
  4. Clean and disinfect areas or items contaminated with vomitus and faeces promptly and thoroughly with diluted household bleach (by adding one part of bleach containing 5.25 percent sodium hypochlorite to 49 parts of water).
  5. Cook all food, particularly seafood and shellfish, thoroughly before consumption.
  6. Refrain from work or school, and seek medical advice if suffering from vomiting or diarrhoea.

* Please visit the website of Centre for Food Safety for more information on food safety.