Have you ever heard that someone has "stomach flu"? What they probably had was gastroenteritis and not flu. Gastroenteritis is inflammation of the intestinal lining. It is caused by parasites, bacteria or a virus. In the USA, viral gastroenteritis is the second most common type of illness. Its cause is most often non-viral. It is spread through an infected person and contaminated water and food. The best way to prevent getting infected is by frequently washing your hands.

Dehydration is the most common problem that comes with gastroenteritis. Dehydration happens when you have diarrhea accompanied by vomiting and do not take in enough fluids to replace what you lost. The elderly, babies, people with weak immune systems and young children are the ones who are most affected by dehydration.

What Are the Symptoms of Gastroenteritis?

General Symptoms

  • Low grade fever up to 37.7°C (100 °F)
  • Nausea without or with vomiting
  • Moderate to mild diarrhea
  • Abdominal bloating accompanied by painful cramps (The cramps could be in cycles and increase in severity until you have passed lose bowel movement. Afterwards, the pain slightly resolves.)
  • Blood in stool or vomit (this is never normal, and the individual affected should seek medical care.)
  • Vomiting for over 48 hours
  • Fever that is higher than 40 °C (101 °F)
  • Abdominal pain or swollen abdomen
  • Dehydration – lack of tears and sweat, dry mouth, dry skin, decreased urination, lightheadedness and weakness are characteristic symptoms and signs.

Severe Symptoms

  • Blood in stool or vomit (this is never normal, and the individual affected should seek medical care.)
  • Vomiting for over 48 hours
  • Fever that is higher than 40 °C (101 °F)
  • Abdominal pain or swollen abdomen
  • Dehydration – lack of tears and sweat, dry mouth, dry skin, decreased urination, lightheadedness and weakness are characteristic symptoms and signs.

When to See a Doctor

For Adults

  • You are unable to keep liquids down the whole day (24 hours)
  • You have been vomiting for the past two days
  • You vomit blood
  • You are dehydrated
  • Your bowel movements have blood
  • Your fever is over 40 °C (104 °F).

For Children

If your child:

  • Has a fever of 38.9 °C (102 °F) or higher
  • Seem very irritable or lethargic
  • Is in a lot of pain or discomfort
  • Passes bloody diarrhea
  • Looks dehydrated

For Infants

If the infant:

  • Is vomiting for several hours
  • Has not wet the diaper in 6 hours
  • Has severe diarrhea or bloody stool
  • Cries without tears or has dry mouth
  • Is unusually unresponsive, drowsy or sleepy
  • Has a sunken fontanel, which is the delicate spot at the top of a baby’s head

What Are the Causes of Gastroenteritis?

The below list is not all-inclusive. It, however, does include most causes of gastroenteritis that may be encountered globally.





Clostridium difficile

Due to the antibiotic suppression of other competing intestinal bacteria, this bacteria will overgrow and produce more toxin. This bacteria causes the largest number of deaths owing to gastroenteritis mostly in people over 65 years of age.


Its usual source includes dairy products that have been contaminated. It can cause listeriosis.


Causes shigellosis with the symptom of food poisoning.


Causes salmonellosis with the symptom of food poisoning.

Escherichia coli

Causes diseases such as thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP), hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS) or E. coli infections with the symptom of food poisoning.


Frequently causes staphylococcus food poisoning with symptoms like abdominal cramps and diarrhea.


Existed in contaminated sea food and water. It can cause cholera.


Existed in oysters and other seafood.


Existed in contaminated seafood.


Existed in contaminated rice.


Existed in contaminated pork meat.


Existed in dairy foods that have been contaminated.



Causes about 50-70 percent of gastroenteritis cases in adults. It is the 2nd most common cause of gastroenteritis in America and is the most common cause of death caused by gastroenteritis.


Commonly causes diarrhea in infants. It occasionally causes dehydration.


It is a common cause of respiratory infections. However, there are some strains that cause symptoms associated to gastroenteritis.


Commonly causes diarrhea in infants.


Commonly causes mild gastroenteritis in children.



Causesgiardiasis with the symptom of diarrhea by contaminated water.


Causescryptosporidiosis by contaminated water and food.


Causes amebiasis by contaminated water.


Food allergies

Shellfish, milk, nuts and eggs are especially common.


Heavy metal toxins (mercury, lead, arsenic, cadmium and aluminum), Algal toxin found in shellfish and others.


Many kinds of antibiotics promote overgrowth of fungus/bacteria.


Many medicine cause diarrhea as a side effect.

What Are the Treatments for Gastroenteritis?

Symptoms often end within a couple of days as your immune system normally clears any infection. Occasionally, if the symptoms are severe, you may need to be admitted to hospital.

Viral gastroenteritis does not have specific medical treatment. Antibiotics are not effective against the viruses, and when you over use them, your body may develop a strain of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Treatment is made up of self-care approaches.

1. Eat Light Meals

You can gradually start by eating bland, easily digested foods like chicken, rice, bananas, gelatin, toast and soda crackers. If nausea returns, stop eating. Avoid certain substances and foods until you start feeling better. They include highly seasoned or fatty foods, nicotine, alcohol, caffeine and dairy products.

2. Have Lots of Drinks

  • Amount of drinks: Drink about 200ml after each diarrhea bout on top of the usual amount you drink.
  • Suitable drinks: For many adults water and some soups should do. Avoid drinks that contain too much sugar like pop or cola. For people over 60 years old, rehydration drinks will do.

3. Use Medicine

Antidiarrheal medication can also be given but not to children under 12 years old. This helps reduce the number of trips you make to the washroom/toilet.

4. Get Plenty of Rest

Dehydration and the illness may have made you tired and weak.

5. Tips for Infants and Children

  • Give oral rehydration: There are oral rehydration solutions available without the need for prescription at pharmacies. Consult your doctor about it first and for instructions on using it. Do not give your child or infant plain water because it is not absorbed well, and it will not replace the lost electrolytes.
  • Avoid specific foods: Avoid sugary foods like candy, sodas and ice-cream and dairy products. They can worsen the diarrhea.
  • Get back to a normal diet gradually: Gradually introduce some easily digested, bland foods like potatoes, rice, toast and bananas.
  • Get plenty of Rest: Your child or infant may be tired and weak from the dehydration and illness.
  • Don’t use OTC anti-diarrheal medicine: Such as loperamide, bismuth subsalicylate etc.

Watch this video for more information in treating gastroenteritis:


What Are the Preventions for Gastroenteritis?

  • Wash hands: Thoroughly wash hands using water and soap after changing nappies or using the toilet, after using a tissue or handkerchief, after smoking or after handling an animal. Also, wash your hands thoroughly before eating or preparing food.
  • Choose disposable paper towels to dry hands instead of cloth towels. There are some bacteria that can survive on objects for some time.
  • Use different implements for raw and cooked food. If you have to, make sure you wash them between uses.
  • Keep food properly handled: Cold food should be kept below 5 °C. Hot food should be kept above 60 °C to discourage growth of bacteria. Make sure all foods are thoroughly cooked.
  • Clean all household surfaces: Keep all equipment and kitchen surfaces clean. Regularly clean the bathroom and toilet especially the toilet seat, taps and handles. Regularly clean the baby change tables.
  • Be careful when travelling: especially when traveling in countries where sanitation is questionable. Only drink and brush teeth by using bottled water. Avoid uncooked foods, peeled vegetables and fruits, buffets and iced drinks.
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