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Bacterial gastroenteritis occurs when bacteria causes an infection in your gut. This condition causes inflammation in your stomach and intestines, and you may experience unpleasant symptoms such as vomiting, severe abdominal cramps, and diarrhea.
Viruses cause many infections of the gastrointestinal system, but bacterial infections are also quite common. Some people call this type of infection “food poisoning.”
Bacterial gastroenteritis can result from poor hygiene. Infection can also occur after coming in close contact with animals or consuming food or water that has been contaminated with bacteria (or the toxic substances they produce).
Numerous kinds of bacteria can cause gastroenteritis, including:
An outbreak of bacterial gastroenteritis can happen when restaurants serve contaminated food to many people. An outbreak can also trigger recalls of produce and other food products.
If you have a weak immune system due to an existing condition or treatment, you may have a higher risk of bacterial gastroenteritis. The risk also increases if you take drugs that decrease the acidity in your stomach.
Handling food incorrectly can also raise your risk of bacterial gastroenteritis. If food is undercooked, stored at room temperature for too long, or insufficiently reheated, bacteria can survive and multiply quickly. Bacteria can produce harmful substances known as toxins. These toxins may remain after the reheating process.
The symptoms of bacterial gastroenteritis may vary depending on the type of bacteria causing your infection. The symptoms may include:
Call your doctor if your symptoms don’t improve after five days, or two days for children. If a child older than three months continues to vomit after 12 hours, call a doctor. Likewise, if a baby younger than three months has diarrhea or vomiting, call your doctor.
Your doctor will ask questions about your illness and check for signs of dehydration and abdominal pain. To determine which type of bacteria is causing your infection, you may be required to give a stool sample for analysis.
Blood samples may also be taken to check for evidence of dehydration.
The goal of treatment is to keep you hydrated and avoid complications. It’s important not to lose too much salt, such as sodium and potassium. These must remain within certain ranges for your body to function properly.
If you have a serious case of bacterial gastroenteritis, you may be admitted to the hospital and given fluids and salts intravenously. Treatment with antibiotics is usually reserved for the most severe cases of gastroenteritis.
If you have a milder case of bacterial gastroenteritis, you may be able to treat your illness at home. You may find the following tips helpful:
If you already have gastroenteritis, you can take safety precautions to avoid spreading the bacteria to others. Make sure you wash your hands after using the toilet and before handling food. Avoid preparing food for other people until your symptoms improve. It also helps to avoid close contact with others during your illness. Additionally, wait 48 hours after your symptoms stop before returning to work.
You can also take measures to help prevent bacterial gastroenteritis infections. For example, avoid unpasteurized milk, raw meat, or raw shellfish. Use separate cutting boards and utensils for raw and cooked meats when preparing meals. Thoroughly wash salads and vegetables. Additionally, make sure temperatures are either very hot or very cold if you’re storing foods for more than a couple of hours.
Other preventative measures include:
Bacterial gastroenteritis rarely causes complications in healthy adults. Most people recover in less than a week. Those who are elderly or very young are more vulnerable to the effects of gastroenteritis and are at higher risk for complications. These individuals should be closely monitored, as they may need medical care.
Written by: Helen Colledge and Marijane Leonard
Published on: Oct 15, 2015
Medically reviewed on: Oct 15, 2015: George Krucik, MD, MBA
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