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

When should I call my doctor for gastroenteritis?

If gastroenteritis symptoms last more than about 5 days, increase in severity (fever of 101 F or 38.33 C or higher), or bloody diarrhea develops, dehydration, constant abdominal pain or other symptoms, a patient should see a physician. The patient may have some gastroenteritis symptoms but may have a disease more serious than self-limiting gastroenteritis. Signs and symptoms of dehydration may include decreased or no urine production, dry mucus membranes, dry mouth or skin, no tears, weakness, lightheadedness and low blood pressure, while children may show little or no urination, become lethargic, have skin that "tents up" when pinched. Signs of dehydration in anyone are good reasons to see a doctor immediately.

What are complications of gastroenteritis?

Most patients who get gastroenteritis have no complications and will completely recover. The major complication for some patients is dehydration; infants, children, the elderly and immunosuppressed are at higher risk for this complication. In many third world countries, hydration of infants is difficult at best so there are many infant deaths worldwide due to dehydration caused by gastroenteritis.

Can gastroenteritis be prevented?

There is no diet that will prevent gastroenteritis but food preparation plays a strong role in preventing gastroenteritis. In general, there are some actions people can do to prevent or reduce the chance of getting gastroenteritis, including:

  • Hand washing, especially before eating and after any close association with an infected person or items (clothing, bedding, toys) they have touched
  • Launder items daily that infected persons wear
  • Avoid direct contact with infected individuals when possible
  • Do not eat undercooked foods, especially meats
  • Do not eat or drink raw foods or untreated water
  • Do not drink untreated or unpasteurized fluids, especially milk
  • Thoroughly wash any produce, especially in third world countries, before eating
  • While traveling, avoid all raw foods and ice; drink only from sealed bottled products and use bottled water for tooth brushing

In addition, there is a vaccine available against rotavirus that has reduced this infection in children. Also, there is a vaccine available against cholera-causing bacteria (Vibrio), but it is not widely available. Research is ongoing; a clinical trial of a Norovirus vaccine was done with some success. It is likely in the near future commercial vaccines against some causes will be available.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/27/2015
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