Following an increase in reports of gastroenteritis at medical facilities in the territory, the Ministry of Health and Social Development is warning parents of small children to be alert for signs of the condition.

Gastroenteritis, which causes irritation and inflammation of the stomach and intestines, is typically caused by a bacteria, virus or parasite in spoiled food, unclean water or dirty hands, according to a government press release that did not state the number of cases reported recently.

If untreated, the condition can cause death, especially in children younger than 5.

Symptoms of the illness include diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, headache, fever and abdominal cramps.

Diarrhea and vomiting can cause dehydration, especially in young children, and parents are urged to watch for signs of it, such as dry skin, a dry mouth, lightheadedness and excessive thirst.

Parents whose children exhibit symptoms of gastroenteritis should contact a doctor, according to government, which stated that treatment can include antibiotics (if bacteria are the source) as well as various rehydration methods.

To lower the risk of contracting the illness, residents are advised to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds after using the bathroom and before eating; clean and disinfect kitchen surfaces; avoid raw or undercooked foods; wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly; avoid sharing utensils, plates and towels with a sick person; and stay home for at least 48 hours after the last symptom.

For more information call 468-2274.