Gastroenteritis is the irritation of the digestive track caused by a viral, bacterial, or parasitic infection. Symptoms include diarrhoea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. Treatment mainly involves symptom relief and fluid replacement. Gastroenteritis is also known as a tummy bug, stomach flu, intestinal flu, food poisoning, and traveller’s diarrhoea.
It is a common condition, mainly because the microbes that can cause gastroenteritis are easily spread via contaminated food or water, and through person-to-person contact. The infection causes the digestive tract to become irritated, which results in diarrhoea and other symptoms such as vomiting and abdominal pain and cramping.
- The most common cause of gastroenteritis is a viral or bacterial infection, and less commonly parasitic infection.
- The most common causes of viral gastroenteritis are norovirus and rotavirus. Escherichia coli (E. coli), Salmonella and Campylobacter are the most common causes of bacterial gastroenteritis. Parasitic gastroenteritis is usually caused by Giardia.
- Viral gastroenteritis is the most frequent cause of gastroenteritis outbreaks, which occur when groups of people are affected at the same time and place.
- Norovirus outbreaks can affect both children and adults, while rotavirus mainly affects infants and children.
The people most at risk of gastroenteritis are
- Infants and young children, who have an immature immune system
- The elderly, who have less efficient immune systems, and especially those living in nursing homes
- Children in daycare, school children and students living in dormitories
- Anyone with a weakened immune system, such as people with HIV/AIDS or receiving chemotherapy