Gastroenteritis is a condition that causes irritation and inflammation of the stomach and intestines (the gastrointestinal tract).
The most common symptoms of gastroenteritis are
Many people also refer to gastroenteritis as "stomach flu." This can sometimes be confusing because
influenza (flu) symptoms include
- muscle aches and pains, and
- respiratory symptoms, but influenza does not involve the gastrointestinal tract.
The term stomach flu presumes a viral infection, even though there may be other causes of infection.
Viral infections are the most common cause of gastroenteritis; but bacteria, parasites, and food-borne illnesses (such as
that has been contaminated by sewage or from eating raw or undercooked shellfish
from contaminated water) can also be the offending agents.
Many people who experience vomiting and diarrhea that develops from these types of infections or irritations think they have "food poisoning,"
when they actually may have a food-borne illness.
Travelers to foreign countries may experience "traveler's diarrhea" from contaminated food and unclean water.
The severity of infectious gastroenteritis depends on
the immune system's ability to resist the infection.
include essential elements of sodium and potassium) may be lost as the
affected individual vomits
and experiences diarrhea.
Most people recover easily from a short episode of
vomiting and diarrhea by drinking fluids and gradually progressing to a normal diet.
But for others, such as infants and the elderly, the loss of bodily fluid with
gastroenteritis can cause dehydration, which is a life-threatening illness unless the condition is treated and fluids
The most recent data from the CDC, show that deaths from gastroenteritis
have increased dramatically. In 2007, 17,000 people died from gastroenteritis,
overwhelmingly, these people were older and the most common infections were
Gastroenteritis has many causes. Viruses and bacteria are the most common.
Viruses and bacteria are very contagious and can spread through the
consumption contaminated food or water. In up to 50% of diarrheal outbreaks, no specific agent is found. The infection can spread from person to person because of improper handwashing following a bowel movement or handling a soiled diaper.
Gastroenteritis caused by viruses may last one to two days. However, some bacterial cases can
continue for a longer period of time.
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