Gastroenteritis is an infection that leads to the inflammation of the stomach or the intestine. The condition can happen to anyone but may be more common in children and the elderly due to their weaker immune systems.
Depending on the cause, it may also be known as stomach (gastric) flu or food poisoning.
In general, the symptoms of stomach flu and food poisoning are similar and may include:
In rare cases, stomach flu can leave you severely dehydrated. Watch out for:
You should visit the A&E department if:
Stomach flu in children may result in serious illness. You should bring your child to a doctor if your child displays any of the following symptoms:
In general, gastroenteritis may be caused by viruses, bacteria or parasites:
Stomach flu is caused by viruses, such as the rotavirus or norovirus. Norovirus is the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis. Other viruses include the astrovirus and adenovirus. Symptoms typically appear within 1 – 3 days of exposure to the virus.
Viral gastroenteritis may be transmitted through:
Food poisoning is caused by bacteria, viruses or parasites in contaminated food. Symptoms typically appear within 1 hour – 7 days of consumption.
Common sources of food poisoning include:
Gastroenteritis can cause severe, even life-threatening, complications in vulnerable people, including:
Children and infants are at particular risk of severe symptoms from gastroenteritis because they become dehydrated much faster than adults.
Gastroenteritis is not fully preventable, though vaccinations are available for some of the viruses that cause it. For example, the rotavirus vaccine can be given to infants at 3 – 8 months to prevent severe cases of rotavirus gastroenteritis.
Besides vaccination, you can prevent gastroenteritis by:
Note: It is possible to contract gastroenteritis more than once as there are many strains of viruses that cause gastroenteritis.