Bacterial Gastroenteritis or stomach flu is an inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract caused by bacteria that usually produces severe symptoms. It can even be fatal.
How Bacterial Gastroenteritis Is Spread
Contaminated food or water: You’re most likely to get gastroenteritis by consuming food or water containing harmful bacteria, such as salmonella and E. coli. Food can become contaminated when food handlers don’t wash their hands or when food isn’t stored, handled, or cooked properly.
Fecal-oral route: People with bacterial gastroenteritis have harmful bacteria in their stool. When they don’t wash their hands well after using the bathroom, they can spread the germs to objects. If you touch the same objects, you can pick up the germs on your hands and transfer them to your mouth.
Symptoms of Bacterial Gastroenteritis
Many kinds of bacteria cause gastroenteritis or stomach flu, so symptoms can vary. In some types of gastroenteritis, symptoms come on quickly. In others, they don’t appear for 24-48 hours. Stomach flu symptoms can range from mild to severe and may include:
- Watery diarrhea
- Nausea and vomiting
- Fever and chills
- Abdominal pain
- Blood in the stool (in severe cases)
Diagnosing Bacterial Gastroenteritis
Your doctor takes a complete health history. Be sure to mention any recent trips and what you ate before you became ill. Keep in mind that symptoms may not appear for a day or two after you become infected. You may be asked to provide a sample of your stool. This is sent to a laboratory for testing. Don’t forget to check with your doctor or hospital emergency department to learn the test results. In some cases, you will be asked to see your doctor for follow-up care.
Treatment for Bacterial Gastroenteritis
Bacterial gastroenteritis or stomach flu often goes away without treatment. In some cases, symptoms are gone in a day or two. In others, symptoms linger for weeks. In certain cases, it can take months for your bowels to return to normal.
Replacing fluids lost through diarrhea and vomiting is important for a full recovery. If you are very dehydrated, you will be given fluids through an IV (intravenous) line placed in your arm.
Medications that slow diarrhea may not be prescribed. They can prolong your illness.
Your doctor will prescribe antibiotics only if your symptoms are caused by certain types of bacteria. You may be admitted to the hospital if your symptoms are very severe.
Easing Symptoms of Bacterial Gastroenteritis
In most cases, bacterial gastroenteritis is treated at home. However, if symptoms don’t resolve with over the counter medications, a visit to one of our board certified gastroenterologists may be needed.
To ease symptoms and prevent complications:
- Get plenty of rest.
- Drink lots of liquids to replace water lost through diarrhea and vomiting. Plain water, clear soups, and electrolyte solutions are best. (You can find electrolyte solutions in most drugstores.) Avoid carbonated drinks, alcohol, coffee, tea, colas, milk, fruit juice, and sports drinks. These can make symptoms worse. If nausea and vomiting make it hard for you to drink, try sucking on ice chips.
- Eat according to your healthcare provider’s instructions.
- Until the diarrhea clears up, avoid eating fruit and all dairy except yogurt. They can make diarrhea worse.
Preventing Bacterial Gastroenteritis at Home
- Always wash your hands well before preparing food and after handling raw meat and poultry.
- Wash all raw fruits and vegetables, even packaged ones, with a scrub brush or vegetable wash.
- Use one cutting board just for meat. Wash all cutting boards in hot, soapy water after use.
- Cook meat (beef, pork, lamb) until a meat thermometer reaches at least 145°F to 160°F (63°C to 71°C). Chicken and turkey should be cooked to at least 165°F (74°C).
- Wash your hands well after changing diapers. Dispose of diapers carefully so bacteria don’t spread.
- Wash your hands well before and after contact with someone who is ill. Use soap and water or an alcohol-‐ based hand gel containing at least 60 percent alcohol.
- Wear gloves when handling clothing, bed linen or towels belonging to a sick person. Discard the gloves after each use. Then wash your hands well. Wash bed linen and other personal items separately in hot water with detergent and liquid bleach.
Tips for Good Hand Washing
Wash your hands often, and always after using the bathroom and playing with pets and before eating or preparing food. Clean the whole hand, under your nails, between your fingers, and up the wrists:
- Wash for at least 15 seconds. Don’t just wipe. Scrub well.
- Rinse, letting the water run down your fingers, not up your wrists.
- Dry your hands well. Use a paper towel to turn off the faucet and open the door.
Using Alcohol—based Hand Gels
When your hands aren’t visibly dirty, an alcohol-based hand gel containing at least 60 percent alcohol is a good choice.
- Squeeze about a tablespoon of gel into the palm of one hand.
- Rub your hands together briskly, cleaning the backs of your hands, the palms, between your fingers, and up the wrists.
- Rub until the gel is gone and your hands are completely dry.
Call Us at 630-527-6450 if You Have Any of the Following:
- Worsening symptoms
- Blood in your stool or your stools look black
- Signs of dehydration, such as a dry mouth, intense thirst, and little or no urine