Updated 16 October 2022 | Approved By Dr. Umberto Russo
What is Gastroenteritis?Gastroenteritis (also known as gastro or stomach flu) is a common stomach and intestinal infection that can be spread from person-to-person. Infections along the gut lining can lead to inflammation, triggering symptoms like diarrhoea and stomach pain. According to The Communicable Diseases Network Australia (CDNA) , there are more than 1.8 million gastroenteritis infections in Australia annually. In adults, gastroenteritis (gastro) is usually not serious. However, younger children, seniors and those with a weaker immune system may experience a higher risk of being seriously ill. To prevent the spread of gastroenteritis, avoid travelling around public and busy areas, such as nursing homes and work environments. Consult a telehealth doctor through 24-7 Medcare to receive care from the comforts of your home.
Gastroenteritis SymptomsSymptoms of gastroenteritis will vary from person to person. Babies, younger children, and the elderly may experience more severe symptoms. The main complication of gastro is dehydration which can carry its symptoms (e.g. being thirsty, fatigued, dark-coloured urine, etc.) and can be potentially fatal. Watch out for signs of dehydration and seek immediate attention from your doctor. Examples of common gastroenteritis symptoms include:
- Stomach pain
- Loss of appetite
Gastroenteritis CausesThere are various causes of gastroenteritis, ranging from viruses, bacteria, parasites, toxins and drugs. Depending on the root cause of your gastro, they can spread in different ways, including eating contaminated foods and catching from another infected person. These causes are also known as pathogens which cause disease when it enters another body. Pathogens have toxins that cause inflammation and other changes in the stomach. These toxins can exist before or begin to form inside the body. Besides catching it from someone else, food poisoning is another way of catching gastro. Common examples include :
- Undercooked or raw food (e.g. eggs, meat, peanuts, etc.)
- Ingesting contaminated water
- Eating seafood (e.g. crabs, oysters, etc.) that have been exposed to contaminated water
- Consuming food or being in contact with anything else that has been infected by someone else
Is Gastroenteritis Contagious?Gastroenteritis is very contagious, particularly infections from viruses. Many cases of gastroenteritis are spread through close contact with an infected person, including:
- Sharing foods
- Shaking hands
- Eating with the same utensils (e.g. spoons, forks, etc.)
- Touching another object that the infected person has contaminated
Tests and DiagnosisIf you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, please get in touch with your doctor. They will be able to make a diagnosis based on your medical history and examination. Further testing may be required, especially for those with persisting symptoms. Your doctor may suggest stool and blood tests to investigate what could be contributing to your current condition.
Gastroenteritis TreatmentsThere is no specific treatment for gastroenteritis. Typically, most people with this condition will naturally recover. Most of the time, the treatment aims to help manage symptoms. Below is a list of treatments that your doctor may recommend.
MedicationYour doctor may suggest medication to help manage symptoms like vomiting and diarrhoea. This is to help with comfort and prevent dehydration. Antibiotics may also be prescribed for bacterial infections.
Home TreatmentMost doctors will recommend self-care strategies at home until the symptoms resolve. Examples include:
- Drinking enough water to prevent dehydration
- Reduce strenuous activity and rest until your symptoms improve
- Avoid consuming foods that may upset your stomach, such as spicy food and alcohol
- Rehydration drinks or electrolytes that are available at your local pharmacist
PreventionPrevention of gastroenteritis is always better than cure. This condition is highly contagious, especially in areas with many people, including cruises and daycares. Below are some strategies to help prevent catching and spreading it.
- Regularly washing your hands, especially after using the bathroom and/or touching objects that could be contaminated (e.g. nappies, raw meat, etc.)
- If you're sick with gastro, stay away from busy areas (e.g. work, nursing homes, etc.) for at least the next 48 hours.
- Avoiding sharing utensils and food with those that are sick
- Regularly clean and wipe down areas that could be a source of contamination (e.g. kitchen, bathroom, etc.)
- Proper food hygiene (e.g. avoid undercooking meat, throwing away expired foods, etc.)
Recovering From GastroenteritisMost cases of gastroenteritis will fully recover within 1-3 days. Sometimes, symptoms may persist for up to 2 weeks. However, younger children, seniors, and those immunocompromised may experience more severe conditions . These individuals must see a doctor immediately to receive treatment and close monitoring. It is essential to stay adequately hydrated and drink enough fluids.
ComplicationsThe most common complication of gastroenteritis is dehydration from fluid loss. Other examples can include:
- Ongoing diarrhoea
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Reactive arthritis
- Weight loss
- Ulcerative colitis
- Crohn's disease
Receiving quality care from highly experienced doctors is essential for a prompt diagnosis and receiving the correct medical treatment. With 24-7 MedCare, you can experience telemedicine from the convenience of your own home. Our friendly online doctors will be available 24/7 for a consultation, anytime and anywhere in Australia.
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- Graves, N. S. (2013). Acute gastroenteritis. Primary care: clinics in office practice, 40(3), 727-741.
- Stuempfig, N. D., & Seroy, J. (2022). Viral gastroenteritis. In StatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing.
- Sattar, S. B. A., & Singh, S. (2018). Bacterial gastroenteritis.