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HealthInfo Canterbury

Overview of diarrhoea & vomiting (gastroenteritis)

Gastroenteritis is a term used to describe the combination of diarrhoea, nausea (with or without vomiting), stomach pain and fever.

Gastroenteritis is usually caused by an infection in the stomach and intestines.

Its symptoms include diarrhoea that comes on suddenly and can be bloody. Symptoms can also include stomach pain or cramp, feeling sick (with or without vomiting), a high temperature (fever), and muscle aches.

Gastroenteritis usually goes away in a few days, but symptoms can sometimes last from seven to 10 days, and occasionally even longer.

Gastroenteritis can be caused by viruses such as rotavirus and norovirus, and bacteria such as Campylobacter, E. coli and Salmonella. It's 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.

How can I avoid getting gastroenteritis?

The best ways to avoid getting gastroenteritis are to practise good hand hygiene and follow food safety advice.

How do I know if I have gastroenteritis?

Most cases of gastroenteritis will go away within a few days and don't need any tests. Your GP may arrange for a sample of your faeces (poo) to be tested if:

If the tests find certain types of infection, your GP may need to report this to the local public health team. They may contact you for more information. This is to help stop the infection spreading further.

How is gastroenteritis treated?

Most people don't need to see a doctor. It's best to avoid going to your doctor's surgery to avoid spreading the infection. If you're concerned, call your general practice for advice.

Antibiotics are rarely needed. They're only needed for specific infections and only in certain circumstances.

The main risk is dehydration and you can usually avoid this by drinking plenty of fluid.

You have a higher risk of becoming dehydrated if you have severe, prolonged diarrhoea or vomiting, and can't drink enough fluid. People most at risk of dehydration are:

You should go to see your GP if:

If you need to visit your GP, always tell them about your symptoms in advance. This is so they can put measures in place to stop other people being infected.

What can I do to look after myself with gastroenteritis?

How can I avoid spreading gastroenteritis?

To reduce the risk of spreading the infection, it's important to have good hand hygiene. This includes washing your hands with soap and water.

Try to avoid preparing food if you have gastroenteritis. If you do prepare food, make sure you wash and dry your hands well first.

Stay away from work, community gatherings and school or preschool until you or your child have been free of symptoms for 24 to 48 hours. This includes the last time you had diarrhoea.

Stay away from work or school for at least 48 hours after your symptoms have gone away if you:

You should wait for at least two weeks after the last episode of diarrhoea before you go swimming in a pool.

  HealthInfo recommends the following pages

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed June 2018.


See also:


Clostridium Difficile


Diarrhoea and vomiting in children








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