What is Gastroenteritis?

Gastroenteritis is a very common condition, commonly known for its side effects of diarrhoea and vomiting. It is usually caused by a bacterial or viral infection in the intestines, and can affect people of all ages though remains especially common in young children. Cases in adults are usually caused by Norovirus or bacterial food poisoning, whereas cases in children are generally caused by the Rotavirus.

How is it spread?

Gastroenteritis spreads rapidly, transmission occurring in a number of ways such as:

  • Close contact with a person contaminated with gastroenteritis. A person with gastroenteritis is most infectious from when their symptoms start until 48 hours after all their symptoms have passed; though they may also be infectious for a short time before and after this.
  • Touching contaminated surfaces and objects .
  • Eating contaminated food; this may be due to contaminated surfaces upon which food has been prepared, it could be because the food itself has been improperly cooked, or because an infected person has handled the food without washing their hands.

Symptoms of Gastroenteritis

There is no need to be tested to confirm this infection. If you become infected with gastroenteritis symptoms begin to appear as soon as a day after, they usually last less than a week and include:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Vomiting
  • Mild fever
  • Abdominal pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dehydration


There is no specific treatment for gastroenteritis, if you experience any symptoms, it is recommended to stay off work or school until you are feeling better.  This also applies to children, and they should start feeling better in a few days.

To help ease symptoms you should:

  • Keep hydrated by drinking plenty of water
  • Try pain relief to ease abdominal pains or control any fever
  • Get plenty of rest
  • Stick to a light diet; plain foods such as soup, white rice and bread may avoid further vomiting
  • Take anti-emetic (anti-vomiting) medication if necessary; you can ask your pharmacist or GP for advice about these and find out if they are suitable for you.

Antibiotics are not usually used for gastroenteritis, although they are sometimes recommended if symptoms are particularly severe or if your tests show you have a bacterial infection. However you should seek medical advice if you symptoms continue and do not get any better.


To prevent catching or spreading gastroenteritis it is best to:

  • Stay off work or school until you feel better
  • Wash hands your hands frequently with soap and water
  • Disinfect any surfaces or objects which may have become contaminated, including children’s toys
  • Do not share utensils or towels with anyone while you are unwell
  • Immediately flush away any vomit or diarrhoea in the toilet or potty, and clean the surrounding area
  • Maintain good food hygiene, storing items correctly and cooking thoroughly as per instructions