Gastrointestinal infection, also known as gastointestinal flu, is an acute inflammation of the digestive tract. Bacteria or fungi are usually responsible for gastroenteritis. Abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhoea are the main symptoms of a gastrointestinal infection. Treatment focuses on taking pressure of the digestive tract (easily digestible food) and fluid replacement. Good hand hygiene should also be a priority.
Gastrointestinal infection causes inflammation of the gastric mucosa, small intestinal mucosa, and colon mucosa. The bacteria varieties E.coli and salmonella as well as the virus types noroviruses and rotaviruses are responsible for the infection. Infection occurs through contaminated food, drinking water or through direct contact with ill people. E. coli bacteria often trigger travel diarrhoea as well. Gastrointestinal infections with highly infectious noroviruses frequently affect entire communities of people; for example, in an old people’s home or in military service. Infections with rotaviruses occur primarily in small children.
Gastrointestinal flu usually develops within 48 hours with nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhoea. If the infection of the colon is more severe, it may also cause bloody diarrhoea. Blood in the stool should always be checked by a doctor. Sometimes fever can occur, as well as dehydration when the patients loses large amounts of fluid. Children in particular are at risk of losing too much fluid when have vomiting and diarrhoea, which is why an infusion treatment can be required.
A gastrointestinal infection is diagnosed on the basis of the patient’s medical history and the symptoms. If required, the pathogen can be determined with a stool examination. Signs of inflammation can be measured and the extent of the fluid loss estimated with a blood test.
Gastrointestinal infections often heal of their own accord with easily digestible food within several days. During the course of the disease, care must be taken to ensure that the patient is drinking sufficient fluid (tea) and salt (isotonic drinks). If they cannot keep any fluid down or are unable to drink, an infusion may be required. Antibiotic treatment is only necessary during severe courses or particular bacterial infections. Good hand hygiene should also be a priority.