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Bacterial Gastroenteritis

What is bacterial gastroenteritis?

Gastroenteritis is when the stomach and intestines become inflamed. It can cause symptoms ranging from mild to severe. It may be caused by a virus, bacterium, fungus, or parasite. When it’s caused by a type of bacteria, it’s called bacterial gastroenteritis.

This condition is a major health risk. You can get dehydrated from vomiting or diarrhea.

What causes bacterial gastroenteritis?

The more common types of bacteria that can cause this condition include:

  • Escherichia coli (E.coli)

  • Salmonella

  • Campylobacter

  • Shigella

  • Clostridioides difficile (C. diff)

  • Staphylococci

What are the symptoms of bacterial gastroenteritis?

Symptoms can vary from person to person. They can range from mild to life-threatening. . They may include:

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Fever (sometimes very high)

  • Belly (abdominal) cramping and pain

  • Diarrhea, possibly bloody

  • Dehydration

  • Electrolyte imbalance

These symptoms can happen with all forms of gastroenteritis. But high fever and bloody diarrhea are more common with bacterial gastroenteritis. Untreated, the condition can lead to very bad dehydration, nerve problems, kidney failure, and even death.

The symptoms of bacterial gastroenteritis may look like other health problems. Always talk with your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is bacterial gastroenteritis diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will do an exam and ask about your health history. Your healthcare provider will likely ask for a stool sample to find the source of your illness. You may need blood tests to find out how severe the illness is.

How is bacterial gastroenteritis treated?

Once a healthcare provider diagnoses this illness, correct treatment often works. Antibiotics can cure some forms of the illness within a few days. You may need other treatment to replace fluids and electrolytes in your body. It depends on how sick you are and your overall health. In some cases, you may need IV (intravenous) fluid replacement.

What can I do to prevent bacterial gastroenteritis?

You may be able to prevent this condition by practicing good hygiene. Make sure you:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly while handling or preparing food.

  • Don’t leave food out too long when you’re serving it. Throw it out if there’s any chance it has gone bad.

  • If you learn of an outbreak of tainted food or drink through a news report, don't have those items.

  • Limit contact with others who have symptoms such as vomiting or diarrhea.

  • Don't eat undercooked food.

  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizers.

When should I call my healthcare provider?

If you have any of the symptoms listed above and they don’t get better after 1 or 2 days, see your healthcare provider.

Key points about bacterial gastroenteritis

  • Bacterial gastroenteritis is a digestive problem caused by bacteria.

  • Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, fever, diarrhea, belly cramping, and pain.

  • In severe cases, you may become dehydrated and have an electrolyte imbalance.

  • This condition is sometimes treated with antibiotics.

  • If not treated, it can lead to very bad dehydration, nerve problems, kidney failure, and even death.

  • Good hygiene can help prevent bacterial gastroenteritis.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:

  • Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.

  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.

  • Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your healthcare provider tells you.

  • At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your healthcare provider gives you.

  • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help you. Also know what the side effects are and when to report them to your healthcare provider.

  • Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.

  • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.

  • Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.

  • If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.

  • Know how you can contact your healthcare provider if you have questions.

Online Medical Reviewer: Jen Lehrer MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Rita Sather RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Tara Novick BSN MSN
Date Last Reviewed: 1/1/2023
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