What is gastroenteritis?
Gastroenteritis is an illness that affects your gut (stomach and intestines).
Gastro may 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 in poisonous mushrooms).
Gastro should only last for a few days. It doesn’t usually require medication.
It is very important to drink plenty of fluids. Older people, young children and those with a weakened immune system are at risk of developing more serious illnesses.
Someone with gastroenteritis may have:
Check your symptoms using healthdirect’s online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.
If you are unwell with diarrhoea or vomiting, you could have gastro. A doctor can diagnose gastro after talking to and examining you. If you’re not getting better, the doctor may want to do stool (poo) tests to find out what's making you ill.
The most important treatment for gastroenteritis is to drink fluids. Frequent sips are easier for young children than a large amount all at once. Keep drinking regularly even if you are vomiting.
If you have a baby or young child with gastro, it’s a good idea to have them checked by a doctor for dehydration. You can get rehydration fluids from a pharmacy. These are the best fluids to use in cases of gastro, especially for children.
If you can’t get any, or your child refuses to drink them, giving them diluted fruit juice (one part juice to four parts of water) is reasonable. Avoid milk and other dairy products.
It's 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, it 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 is gastroenteritis spread?
Infectious gastro can be spread very easily. You might get it from having contact with an infected person (or their vomit or poo). It can also spread via contaminated food or water.
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.You can find more information on gastro in kids on the GESA (Gastroenterological Society of Australia) website .
Last reviewed: June 2015