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Gastroenteritis, also called ‘gastro’, is a common illness that can cause vomiting and diarrhoea. Many types of gastro are easily spread. Gastro is not usually serious but it can make you very dehydrated. Milder forms can be managed at home by drinking fluids.

What is gastroenteritis?

Gastroenteritis (‘gastro’) is an illness affecting your gut (stomach and intestines).

Gastro can be caused by:

  • viruses (such as rotavirus or norovirus infections)
  • bacteria (including salmonella)
  • toxins produced by bacteria
  • parasites (such as giardia)
  • chemicals (such as toxins from poisonous mushrooms).

Gastro should only last a few days. It doesn’t usually require medication.

Drinking plenty of fluids is very important. Older people, young children, and those with a weakened immune system are at risk of more serious illness.

Gastroenteritis symptoms

Someone with gastroenteritis may have:

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Gastroenteritis diagnosis

If you are unwell with diarrhoea or vomiting you could have gastro. A doctor can diagnose it after talking to and examining you. If you’re not getting better, stool (poo) tests might be done to find out the cause.

Gastroenteritis treatment

The most important treatment is drinking fluids. Frequent sips are easier for young children than a large amount all at once. Keep drinking regularly even if you are vomiting.

If your baby or young child has gastro, it’s a good idea for them to be checked by a doctor for dehydration. You can get rehydration fluids from a pharmacy. These are the best fluids to use in gastro, especially for children.

If you can’t get any, or your child refuses to drink it, giving diluted fruit juice (one part juice to four parts of water) is reasonable. Avoid milk and other dairy products. It is fine to eat once you feel like it.

Babies can continue milk feeds throughout the illness, with rehydration fluid between feeds. Medication for nausea can be useful, however may not be safe for kids. Antibiotics are rarely helpful.

If you are very sick with gastro you may need to go to hospital, where you may be put on a drip.

How gastroenteritis is spread?

Infectious gastro can be easily spread. You might get it from contact with an infected person (or their vomit or poo). It can also spread via contaminated food or water.

Gastroenteritis prevention

To reduce your risk of catching or spreading gastro, wash your hands well after using the bathroom or changing nappies, and before preparing or eating food.

If you have gastro, it’s best to stay home (away from work, school or childcare) until the symptoms have been gone for at least 24 hours.

Visit the GESA website for more information on gastro in kids.

Last reviewed: June 2015

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