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Bacterial gastroenteritis

Alternative names

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


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

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

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:
  • Salmonella enteritis
  • Shigella enteritis
  • Staph aureus food poisoning
  • Campylobacter enteritis
  • E. coli enteritis
  • Food poisoning


  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Abdominal pain
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Stools, bloody

Signs and tests

  • Stool culture positive for causative organism
  • White blood cells on fecal smear
  • 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 systemic involvement is present. Antidiarrheal medications are generally not given because they may prolong the infectious process.

Self-care measures to avoid dehydration include drinking electrolyte solutions to replace fluids lost by diarrhea and eating no solid food until the diarrhea has passed. People with diarrhea who are unable to take oral fluids due to nausea may need medical attention and intravenous fluids, especially young children. People taking diuretics need to be cautious with diarrhea and may need to stop taking the medication during an acute episode as directed by the health care provider.

Expectations (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.


  • Systemic infection
  • Dehydration
  • Anemia (low blood counts)
  • Kidney failure (rare)

Calling your health care provider

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 health care provider if your infant or 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.

Update Date: 4/25/2002

Andrew J. Muir, M.D. M.H.S., Division of Gastroenterology, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.

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Last updated: Tue, 06 Jan 2009 00:20:03 GMT