Bacterial Gastroenteritis

What is bacterial gastroenteritis?

Bacterial gastroenteritis, often referred to as 'food poisoning' or 'stomach flu', is an inflammation of the stomach and intestines due to a bacterial infection. The infection occurs when food is consumed from an unclean source, either through unwashed handling, spoiled food, or contaminated water. It is typically a sudden and severe problem that lasts only a couple of days. This condition’s main symptoms are diarrhea and abdominal discomfort.


Bacterial gastroenteritis is often transferred from person to person through food or water, though it can be spread in other ways. Common ways to get bacterial gastroenteritis are either through unhygienic food preparation (for example, not washing hands after bathroom breaks, or using cutting boards for both meat and salads) or unsafe food storage (for example, poor refrigeration causing food spoilage). The chances of getting bacterial gastroenteritis increases in situations where it is difficult to have good food preparation hygiene or safe food storage (such as picnics, cafeterias, food vans, etc.).


Typical symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal discomfort or pain, and a feeling of weakness.


A diagnosis is usually reached from assessing the symptoms and clinical examination. Sometimes testing of the stool is required to identify the specific bacterial cause.


Most cases of bacterial gastroenteritis will go away without specific treatment, so medical care is primarily rehydration (water or rehydration powders/solutions). Eating light meals may be helpful. Some gastrointestinal infections may require treatment with antibiotics.


Good food preparation hygiene, safe food storage and drinking from clean water sources can help to prevent bacterial gastroenteritis. Patients with bacterial gastroenteritis should make sure to wash their hands properly after visiting the toilet to avoid infecting other people.