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Acute gastroenteritis facts

About acute gastroenteritis

Gastroenteritis is a medical condition characterized by the inflammation and irritation of the lining of the gastrointestinal organs, including stomach and intestines.

The term often used for acute gastroenteritis is “stomach flu”, probably because it can be caused by a virus and because the symptoms may sometimes resemble those of influenza. However, influenza is not the same this as gastroenteritis. In fact, other factors can cause gastroenteritis, such as bacteria, parasites and food-borne diseases. Gastroenteritis caused by food-borne agents, for example after eating shellfish, is often mistakenly called “food poisoning”.

The common symptoms of acute gastroenteritis include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, bloating, excessive flatulence and painful abdominal cramps.

The severity of symptoms depends on many elements, mostly on the immune system’s ability to fight the infection. Dddehydration or loss of fluids is the major complication of gastroenteritis, especially in children, in elderly and in people with chronic illnesses.

Most people, however, quickly recover from gastroenteritis by taking fluids and avoiding solid foods until the vomiting and diarrhea subside.

Viral acute gastroenteritis does not require a specific treatment but bacterial or parasitical infections should be treated with appropriate medications.

Causes of acute gastroenteritis

Viruses and bacteria are the most common cause of gastroenteritis. Viral gastroenteritis is commonly caused by norovirus, which accounts for 50 to 70 percent of all cases of gastroenteritis in adults.

Norovirus can be contracted through contaminated foods, by touching contaminated objects and then touching the mouth, through direct physical contact with an infected person or his or her belongings.

Other viruses known for causing gastroenteritis, although not as commonly as norovirus, include rotavirus, adenoviruses, parvoviruses and astroviruses.

Many different bacteria species can also cause gastroenteritis. Staphylococcus aureus infection is a common type of food poisoning. Escherichia coli is also fairly common and it also carries an increased risk of complications, such as kidney failure in children, bloody diarrhea and thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura in adults.

Salmonella, Shigella and Campylobacter are also common causes of bacterial gastroenteritis. Salmonella can be contracted through consumption of contaminated water or food. Shigella is mostly contracted through direct contact with an infected person, but also through the consumption of contaminated food or water or by swimming in contaminated water. As for Campylobacter, it is mostly contracted through consumption of undercooked or raw poultry.

Other causes of gastroenteritis include Clostridium difficile, giardia and cryptosporidium.

Non-contagious acute gastroenteritis may be caused by toxic exposure, usually from seafood, food allergies, exposure to heavy metals, antibiotics and other medications.

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