It is a common scenario in a hospital setting for a health worker to declare that a patient has an infection. This revelation leaves many patients surprised; because in many cases, they are getting the same diagnosis several times.
Sharon Kabahanika is one such distraught mother whose two-year-old son constantly gets fevers. This has forced her to make frequent visits to health workers. However, after two to three days of antibiotics, the fever subsides and the child gets back to normal.
After consultations with a medical doctor, Kabahanika has realised infections are illnesses that should be taken seriously or otherwise, they could have far reaching consequences.
Kabahanika joins parents who are puzzled with the rising cases of infections. Meanwhile parents are getting frustrated by health workers who tell them that the child merely has an infection leaving them searching for more answers.
Cause, signs and symptoms
Dr Goretti Nakitende, a general practioner at Maxi Health Medical Centre, defines an infection as an invasion of harmful micro-organisms to the body. In this case, the microorganisms are always harmful infections mainly caused by bacteria, fungi, and parasites.
Dr Badru Matovu of Kibuli Hospital explains that an infection is a reaction that the body undergoes following an invasion of a microorganism. We access most germs through body contact, inhalation, bleeding and sexual contact.
“If the microorganism successfully invades the body, then it is likely that signs and symptoms will occur. These usually include abdominal pain, itching, headache, fever with high temperature, swelling of pimples around the skin making the skin look reddish. The signs and symptoms may be specific or non-specific to a disease,” he says, adding that since they intermingle after successful invasion of germs or pathogens, you are told to wash hands and not to cough unnecessarily in public in order to avoid spreading the germs.
Dr Nakitende says fever is the first sign of an infection. Other signs include lack of appetite, general body weakness, irritability and this also depends on the body system.
However, some signs provide clues of an impending disease. She says: “If the infection is in the digestive system, it may cause vomiting, diarrhoea or constipation. The respiratory system presents difficulty in breathing and if the infection is in the nervous system, it can still cause vomiting, a stiff neck and high fevers.”
However, in this case, some people rush to treat infections as malaria. Other signs include being anaemic, pale and yellowish eyes, swelling of the eyes, hands, legs and abdomen. The skin turns purplish. In children, lymphnodes at different parts start swelling turning the skin reddish.
Difficult to detect
“A doctor must be able to explain what kind of infection a person has. Some health workers use this term wrongly. Infections have a cause, and it must be explained to the patient. Usually, an infection is a symptom of another problem or disease in the body,” he says, adding, “An infection could be a symptom of malaria, STI or cough. However, at that stage, it is very hard to detect whether it is a disease or not.”
“Different infections have different complications. Patients should not take themselves for granted because they pay money. A doctor must be able to tell you where the infection is; whether in the lungs or intestines, because the pain occurs in different parts of the body,” he adds.
Dr Nakitende explains that it is difficult to identify a patient’s disease when a person is suffering from an infection and health centres lack the necessary equipment to identify it. She advises patients to visit hospitals that can detect and connect an infection to a disease.
However, she notes that infections are common in children because sometimes most have issues but they cannot talk.
“In children, it is hard to identify where the problem is. For instance, pain in the throat depends on the disease and where the infection is coming from. Sometimes micro-organisms are hidden, especially for malaria.”
Dr Nakitende also says children who constantly take antibiotics are at a high risk of infections because with time, the antibiotics become resistant. Naturally, children’s immunity is low, the reason they are prone to infections.
Dr Matovu notes: “In the population, there are special groups which are; children, the elderly and pregnant women. Children are in the special group because their immunity is low. Adults are able to defend themselves because of our immune system. But in case of children, infections are common because the immune system is still developing. That is why some parents say that the child is often falling sick. But this goes on until the immune system becomes strong and memory cells help in fighting off such infections.”
Dr Matovu says children at crawling or standing stage are mainly at risk.
“Children sometimes do not know the cause of pain in their bodies, so parents must take the initiative. Some infections do not present serious signs apart from high fever. A child may drink dirty water while playing, and it is common that young children love to eat anyhow.”
She adds that parents must be keen with infections in children. For instance, breastfeeding mothers should wash their hands before feeding babies because it is easy to infect them with harmful bacteria.
Prevention and treatment
According to the 2016 Uganda Clinical Guidelines from the Ministry of Health, the following interventions are required to reduce the occurrence of infections.
Cleaning surface areas and avoid leaving room-temperature food exposed when cooking. Receive any recommended vaccinations, and keep them up to date.
Take antibiotics only when prescribed, and be sure to complete any recommended course even if symptoms improve earlier than anticipated.
Disinfect rooms where there may be high concentrations of bacteria such as the kitchens, toilets and bathrooms.
Wash your hands often, especially before and after preparing food and after using the bathroom and toilet.
Practice safe sex by receiving regular STD checks, using condoms, or abstaining altogether.
Avoid sharing personal items such as toothbrushes, combs, razorblades, drinking glasses, and kitchen utensils.
Follow a doctor’s advice about travelling or working when you are ill, as you could infect others.
If left untreated….
Dr Nakitende says if left untreated, an infection can result into sepsis, a life-threatening illness caused by your body’s response to an infection.
Common cold . A common viral infection of the nose and throat.
Flu. A common viral infection that can be deadly, especially in high-risk groups.
Strep throat. A bacterial infection that may cause a sore, scratchy throat.
Urinary tract infection. An infection in any part of the urinary system, the kidneys, bladder or urethra.
Cellulitis. A common and potentially serious bacterial skin infection.
Stomach flu. An intestinal infection marked by diarrhoea, cramps, nausea, vomiting and fever.
Pneumonia. Infection that inflames air sacs in one or both lungs, which may fill with fluid.
Our immune system needs help which can be provided in the form of foods that fight off harmful bacteria naturally.
Honey. Honey contains live enzymes that release hydrogen peroxide, which is known to kill germs and unwanted foreign elements that enter our body. Garlic
Garlic is a powerful anti-bacterial that can fight yeast infections, fungus and candida overgrowth.
Lemon. It is full of Vitamin C, which also acts as an antioxidant that fights disease-causing free radicals in the body.
Pineapple. Pineapple acts as an amazing anti-bacterial that helps to fight invading cells in the mouth and throat.
Ginger. Sucking a piece of raw ginger and taking in all its juices is known to cure cough and kill bacteria that causes infection.