Updated: Mar 23

Have you ever had the “stomach flu”? What you probably had was gastroenteritis, not a type of flu at all.

Gastroenteritis, also known as infectious diarrhoea or may commonly be referred to as “stomach flu” or sometimes called “tummy bug”, is an inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract that involves the stomach and small intestine

When you have diarrhoea and vomiting, you may say you have the "stomach flu." With gastroenteritis, your stomach and intestines are irritated and inflamed.

It affects people of all ages, but is particularly common in young children.

Children and those in the developing world are most commonly affected. It is less common in adults, partly due to the development of immunity.

Causes of Gastroenteritis

Gastroenteritis can be due to infections by viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungus. The most common cause of gastroenteritis is a virus. Gastroenteritis can be caused by many different kinds of viruses. The main types are rotavirus and norovirus.

There are many ways gastroenteritis can be spread:

  • Contact with someone who has the virus

  • Contaminated food or water

  • Unwashed hands after going to the bathroom or changing a diaper

  • Bottle-feeding of babies with improperly sanitized bottles is a significant cause on a global scale.

There are also other unusual ways to get gastroenteritis:

  • Heavy metals (arsenic, cadmium, lead, or mercury) in drinking water

  • Eating a lot of acidic foods, like citrus fruit and tomatoes

  • Toxins that might be found in certain seafood

  • Medications such as antibiotics, antacids, laxatives, and chemotherapy drugs

Symptoms of Gastroenteritis

With gastroenteritis, the main symptoms you probably have are:

  • sudden, watery diarrhoea

  • feeling sick

  • vomiting, which can be projectile

  • a mild fever

You might also have stomach pain, cramping, fever, loss of appetite, nausea, and a headache.

Because of diarrhoea and vomiting, you also can become dehydrated. Watch for signs of dehydration, such as dry skin and a dry mouth, feeling lightheaded, and being really thirsty. Call your doctor if you have any of these symptoms.

Signs and symptoms usually begin 12–72 hours after contracting the infectious agent. If due to a viral agent, the condition usually resolves within one week. However, some bacterial cases can continue for months.

If the stool is bloody, the cause is less likely to be viral and more likely to be bacterial.

Children infected with rotavirus usually make a full recovery within three to eight days.


Gastroenteritis is typically diagnosed clinically, based on a person's signs and symptoms. Determining the exact cause is usually not needed as it does not alter management of the condition. However, stool cultures should be performed in those with blood in the stool, those who might have been exposed to food poisoning, and those who have recently travelled to the developing world.

Diagnostic testing may also be done for surveillance. As hypoglycemia occurs in approximately 10% of infants and young children, measuring serum glucose in this population is recommended. Electrolytes and kidney function should also be checked when there is a concern about severe dehydration.


Fortunately, most cases resolve quickly and without requiring any particular medical treatment. The main aim is to prevent dehydration from occurring or to treat it if it does.

Treatment involves getting enough fluids. For mild or moderate cases, this can typically be achieved by drinking oral rehydration solution (a combination of water, salts, and sugar). Eat small, light meals but do not feel you have to eat if you do not feel hungry. Don't stop drinking, and avoid spicy, fatty or heavy food.

In those who are breast fed, continued breastfeeding is recommended. For more severe cases, intravenous fluids may be needed.

Fluids may also be given by a nasogastric tube. Zinc supplementation is recommended in children. Antibiotics are generally not needed.


The main complication of gastroenteritis is dehydration. It occurs when the body eliminates too large a quantity of water and mineral salts, which are essential to the proper functioning of the body.

People Likely to Experience Complications

Some people are more at risk of experiencing complications. They include:

  • Children less than 2 years old

  • People aged 65 years and over

  • Pregnant women

  • People with a chronic disease such as diabetes

Preventing Gastroenteritis

Prevention includes:

1. Hand washing with soap:

  • After you go to the toilet.

  • Before you touch food.

  • Between handling raw meat and food ready to be eaten. (There may be some germs (bacteria) on raw meat.)

  • After gardening.

  • After playing with pets (healthy animals can carry certain harmful bacteria).

2. Avoid sharing towels and flannels.

3. Drinking clean water. For example, you may need to boil tap water before drinking it.

4. Proper disposal of human waste.

5. Exclusively breastfeeding babies instead of using formula.

Breastfeeding is important, especially in places with poor hygiene, as is improvement of hygiene generally. Breast milk reduces both the frequency of infections and their duration.

6. Avoiding contaminated food or drink should also be effective.


The rotavirus vaccine is recommended in children. Young children can have the rotavirus vaccination when they’re two to three months old, which can reduce their risk of developing gastroenteritis.

Gastroenteritis can spread very easily, so you should wash your hands regularly while you're ill and stay off work or school until at least 48 hours after your symptoms have cleared, to reduce the risk of passing it on.

It's not always totally possible to avoid getting gastroenteritis, but following the advice below can help stop it spreading:

  • Stay off work, school or nursery until at least 48 hours after the symptoms have passed. You or your child should also avoid visiting anyone in hospital during this time.

  • Ensure you and your child wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water, particularly after using the toilet and before preparing food. Don't rely on alcohol hand gels, as they're not always effective.

  • Disinfect any surfaces or objects that could be contaminated. It's best to use a bleach-based household cleaner.

  • Wash contaminated items of clothing or bedding separately on a hot wash.

  • Don't share towels, flannels, cutlery or utensils while you or your child is ill.

  • Flush away any poo or vomit in the toilet or potty and clean the surrounding area.

  • Practice good food hygiene. Make sure food is properly refrigerated, always cook your food thoroughly, and never eat food that is past its use-by date .

  • Don't prepare or serve food for others when ill.

  • Regularly clean the toilets that you use, with disinfectant. Wipe the flush handle, toilet seat, bathroom taps, surfaces and door handles with hot water and detergent at least once a day. Keep a cloth just for cleaning the toilet (or use a disposable one each time).

  • Stay off work, college, etc, until at least 48 hours after the last episode of diarrhoea or being sick (vomiting).

....making effort to "STAY WELL"


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The contents herein are for informational purposes only, therefore, should not be used as an alternative to seeking independent medical advice, and we cannot take responsibility for an individual’s decision to use them as such. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.