Gastroenteritis (Stomach Flu)

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.

woman with abdominal pain

Is gastroenteritis contagious?

The large majority of causes (viral and bacterial) of gastroenteritis are contagious, usually through food or water contamination; in addition, they can be transferred person-to-person. A few causes are not contagious such as food allergies or the side effects of medications. Exposures to body fluids (for example, feces or droplets containing infectious agents) are common sources that transmit the disease to others (See transmission section below).

Who is at risk for gastroenteritis?

Gastroenteritis is a common, worldwide disease and almost everyone suffers from it a few times in their life because it is almost impossible to avoid contact with some of the viral and bacterial causes.

  • People living in crowded conditions (military, cruise ships, dorms) are at higher risk, as are people living in developing countries who often have a diet that contains contaminated food or water.
  • Infants, children and some adults (elderly, immunosuppressed) are at higher risk because of immature or depressed immune systems and also because they can become dehydrated faster than older children and adults.
  • Some patients taking antibiotics are at higher risk because the antibiotics depress the normal GI microbes and allow bacteria or viruses like Clostridium diffficile to predominate and cause disease.
  • People who do not practice good hygiene and hand washing techniques are at higher risk, as are those who eat under cooked and/or unwashed foods or drink from potentially contaminated fluid sources (rivers, streams, unpasteurized milk, for example).

How is gastroenteritis transmitted?

The majority of all patients can transfer most viral and bacterial causative agents to other people by direct and indirect contact, usually by the fecal – oral route. Direct contact could involve an infant's hand touching feces-contaminated surfaces and then touching a sibling or relative; indirect contact would be like touching a door knob or railing on a cruise ship or in a dorm that is contaminated and the person touches the contaminated surface and transfers the agent by touching their mouth. Another common way to get gastroenteritis is drinking or eating contaminated foods and liquids.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/27/2015
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