Gastroenteritis is a common illness which often spreads like an epidemic. This illness, often known as “stomach flu”, tends to be caused by a virus and more rarely by bacteria.
Gastroenteritis often takes hold suddenly with symptoms such as abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhoea. The illness can last between one and three days and usually goes away without treatment. Symptoms appear within 12 hours of contamination. Sick people will remain contagious until around two days after symptoms have disappeared.
The illness can have serious consequences for more vulnerable patients such as babies, the elderly, patients with chronic illnesses and those with a weak immune system, mainly due to the risk of dehydration.
Gastroenteritis is often spread through contact with an infected person, or by consuming contaminated water or food.
Gastroenteritis is often caused by a virus. The symptoms of the illness – abdominal cramps, vomiting and diarrhoea – are caused by inflammation of the mucous membranes which line the intestine.
The virus is highly resistant and can be found in many places in our daily lives, in food and water as well as on objects that we use every day.
To prevent infection, it is important to wash your hands regularly and avoid sharing potentially contaminated objects with other people (drinking from the same glass as someone else or letting a child put a toy in their mouth).
Gastroenteritis may also, but more rarely, be caused by bacteria, especially on trips to tropical countries.
Rest and hydration are key to effective treatment. If you feel nauseous, you should frequently drink small quantities of tea, herbal infusions, soup or broth for example. People with gastroenteritis often experience a loss of appetite, but they should eat when and what they feel like, favouring food that is easy to digest (pasta, rice, lean meat, white bread, cooked carrots, bananas, etc.).
Medicine can relieve symptoms. Paracetamol (Panadol, Dafalgan) is used for pain relief, while Domperidone (Domperidone, Motilium) can be used to reduce nausea and vomiting.
A medical consultation is required for all vulnerable people (babies, the elderly, patients with chronic illnesses or a weak immune system) or if serious symptoms are present: a severe change to your general health, high temperature, blood when vomiting or passing stool.
You can find further information on gastroenteritis in the article Dad, I have a stomach bug… on the Planète santé website. To avoid getting or spreading the infection, read the article Washing your hands, a vital reflex to avoid contamination, which is useful for gastroenteritis but also for any illness which can be spread via the hands!