Gastroenteritis – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Written by Sai Pragna Chagarla, Staff Writer – Hola Health
Medically reviewed by Dr. Nelson Lau - MBBS FRACGP
Gastroenteritis often referred to as gastro is a highly infectious disease which affects the gut. It is triggered by an infection which inflames the lining of the stomach and the intestines. Older and younger people are more susceptible to this disease. This can spread easily from person to person hence caution should be taken to not spread the disease when affected.  

What are the causes for Gastroenteritis?

Gastroenteritis is usually caused by various viruses, bacteria, or some parasites. Here are some of the common causes:

  • Viral Infections: Rotavirus, norovirus, and adenovirus are common viruses responsible for gastroenteritis. These infections are highly contagious and can spread through contaminated food, water, or direct contact with an infected person.
  • Bacterial Infections: Salmonella, Escherichia coli (E. coli), and Campylobacter are frequent causes of gastroenteritis. Contaminated food, undercooked meat, or unpasteurised dairy products are common sources of bacterial infections.
  • Parasites: Giardia lamblia and Cryptosporidium can cause gastroenteritis, typically transmitted through contaminated water or food
  • Toxins: Ingestion of toxins, often found in certain types of fish or poorly preserved food, can lead to gastroenteritis. 
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What are the symptoms of Gastroenteritis?

The symptoms of gastroenteritis can vary from person to person in severity. The symptoms that are commonly seen are:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Body ache
  • No appetite and not being able to drink fluids as well.

Dehydration accompanies diarrhoea and vomiting and is an effect of Gastroenteritis.

Why is Gastroenteritis an Infectious Disease?

Gastroenteritis is primarily caused by various viruses or germs and because these microorganisms can spread from person to person or through contaminated food and water sources, gastroenteritis is considered infectious. While airborne transmission is not the primary mode, aerosolized particles from vomiting can contaminate surfaces leading to indirect transmission. It is suggested for a person affected by gastroenteritis to follow good hygiene up to 48 hours after the symptoms have stopped and try avoiding going to crowded places such as an office or school to prevent the passing of the virus to someone else. You can submit a medical certificate to your employer or school regarding the same. Get your medical certificate online from an AHPRA (Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency) accredited doctor or nurse practitioner in under 15 minutes 24 hours a day and 7 days a week on Hola Health. 

How can we treat Gastroenteritis?

Gastroenteritis will usually subside with ample intake of fluids and time. Some necessary medications to ease the symptoms can be suggested by a General Practitioner. Hydration becomes paramount to combat the fluid loss associated with diarrhoea and vomiting. Rehydration solutions or electrolyte-rich fluids can help restore the body’s balance. Rest is another essential component of recovery, allowing the body to heal and rejuvenate. Dietary adjustments play a crucial role in managing gastroenteritis. Initially, a diet consisting of bland and easily digestible foods is recommended. As symptoms subside, gradual reintroduction of a regular diet is advised, avoiding spicy, fatty, or hard-to-digest foods during the recovery phase.  

Do not encourage consumption of sweet foods, undiluted juices,soft drinks or chicken broth as it might irritate the lining of the digestive system further.   

When should I consult a doctor for Gastroenteritis?

Mostly cases of gastro would resolve itself with proper diet and copious amounts of fluids, but in some cases, it is important to get an appointment with the general practitioner immediately, such as If the infected person:

  • Is a baby who is less than 6 months old.
  • Passes blood in the stools or has dark green vomit.
  • Shows signs of dehydration such as dry mouth, dry lips, sunken eyes, cold feet and hands, lethargy or feeling faint.
  • Has other symptoms including fever and severe abdominal pain.
  • Cannot keep any fluids down due to severe bouts of vomiting.
  • Aged people with other health complications or people in aged care facility.
  • Individuals with weakened immune systems, pregnant women, and those with chronic medical conditions should also consult a doctor early in their symptoms. 

A doctor can diagnose by asking about the symptoms and in severe case might ask for diagnostic test of the stool to determine what is causing the gastro.

How can we prevent Gastro?

Preventing gastroenteritis involves adopting good hygiene practices, making safe food and water choices, and being mindful of your environment. Here are some key preventive measures:

  • Following good hand hygiene such as washing hands regularly especially before eating food
  • By ensuring food safety such as cleaning and cooking the meat thoroughly, refrigerating the leftovers right away, not mixing cooked and uncooked foods, and safe handling of food while cooking
  • Consuming safe and clean drinking water especially when travelling to areas with questionable water quality or hygiene.
  • Vaccination, ensuring infants are vaccinated against rotavirus during their vaccination routine.
  • Staying home when sick and isolating to minimise the spread of the infection.
  • Following public health advisories during outbreaks can also reduce the risk of transmission. 

 

Gastroenteritis is a short-term and self-limiting condition, but prompt attention can help manage symptoms and prevent complications. It is also the duty of the infected and the carer to ensure the spread of the infection is minimised by following proper hygiene etiquette.

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Reference

  1. Gastroenteritis – Health Direct: Reference Link
  2. NSW Health – Viral Gastroenteritis: Reference Link
  3. Gastroenterological society of Australia – Information about Gastroenteritis in children: Reference Link
  4. Australian government – department of health and aged care_Gastro info – outbreak coordinator’s handbook: Reference Link

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Disclaimer

This content is created for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. For emergencies please immediately contact 000.