Acute gastroenteritis

Acute gastroenteritis


Bacterial gastroenteritis is an inflammation of the stomach and intestines caused by bacteria or bacterial toxins (see also food poisoning).

Alternative Names

Infectious diarrhea - bacterial gastroenteritis; Acute gastroenteritis; Gastroenteritis - bacterial


Many different types of bacteria can produce the symptoms associated with bacterial gastroenteritis, including salmonella, shigella, staphylococcus, Campylobacter jejuni, clostridium, E. coli, yersinia, and others. Some sources of the infection are improperly prepared food, reheated meat dishes, seafood, dairy, and bakery products. Each organism causes slightly different symptoms but all result in diarrhea. Colitis, inflammation of the large intestine, may also be present.

Risk factors are consumption of improperly prepared foods or contaminated water and travel or residence in areas of poor sanitation. The incidence is 1 in 1,000 people.

Related topics:


  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Abdominal pain
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Bloody stools

Exams and Tests

  • Stool culture positive for the organism that causes the infection
  • White blood cells in the stool
  • Examination of food for toxin and bacteria
This disease may also alter the results of the following tests:
  • Stool gram stain
  • Fecal smear


The objective of treatment is to replace fluids and electrolytes (salt and minerals) lost by diarrhea. Blood transfusions are rarely required.

Antibiotic or antimicrobial therapy is usually not indicated unless the rest of the body is affected. Ask your doctor before using any antidiarrheal medicines.

Self-care measures to avoid dehydration

Outlook (Prognosis)

With most infections, symptoms improve with fluid and electrolyte replacement within a week. There are rare cases of patients with renal failure and even death due to the infection.

Possible Complications

  • Systemic infection
  • Dehydration
  • Anemia (low blood counts)
  • Kidney failure (rare)
  • Arthritis
  • New onset of irritable bowel syndrome

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if diarrhea recurs or persists for more than a week, or if there is blood in stools. Infants and young children become dehydrated more rapidly than adults. Call your provider if your child develops any signs of dehydration, even if it is only a few hours since the onset of illness.


Proper handling, storage, and preparation of food -- in addition to good sanitation -- are principles of prevention.

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