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HealthInfo Canterbury

Diarrhoea & vomiting (gastroenteritis)

About gastroenteritis

Gastroenteritis is an infection in the stomach and intestines, which causes a rapid onset of diarrhoea with or without vomiting, pain or fever. Most cases will clear in a few days, but symptoms can sometimes last up to 10 to 14 days. Most cases are caused by a virus such as Rotavirus or Norovirus, and are spread through direct contact with a person carrying the infection. Eating food or drinking water containing bacteria and other microbes (germs) can also cause gastroenteritis.

Do I have gastroenteritis?

The symptoms of gastroenteritis include:

Tests and diagnosis

Most cases of gastroenteritis will go away within a few days and do not require any tests. Your doctor may ask you to do a stool (faeces) sample if:

If you are found to have certain particular types of infection, your GP may need to contact Public Health. Public Health may then be in touch with you for more information about your illness.

What can I do?

Most cases of gastroenteritis will go away within a few days. The main risk is dehydration and this can usually be avoided through drinking plenty of fluid. Most people will not need to see a doctor and, ideally, it is better to avoid going into your doctor's surgery, to avoid spreading the infection. If you are concerned, call your general practice team for advice.

Antibiotics are rarely needed and will make viral gastroenteritis worse. They are only required for specific bacterial or microbial infections and only in certain circumstances.

People most at risk of dehydration

See a doctor if

If you need to visit your GP surgery, always let them know of your symptoms in advance so that infection control measures can be put in place.

Looking after yourself

Preventing spread of infection

People who need to be clear of symptoms for at least 48 hours before returning to work or school

  HealthInfo recommends the following pages

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Updated November 2016.

See also:

Campylobacter, Clostridium Difficile, Cryptosporidium, E.coli, Giardia, Norovirus, Rotavirus, Salmonella, Shigella, Yersinia, and Diarrhoea and vomiting in children on HealthInfo

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Page reference: 81185

Review key: HIGTE-81185