Gastroenteritis (tummy bug) is a general term for diarrhoea and vomiting triggered by an infection and inflammation of the digestive system (gut). There are many causes of gastroenteritis, including viruses (e.g. Norovirus, Rotavirus, Adenovirus); bacteria (e.g. Salmonella, Campylobacter) bacterial toxins (e.g. Staphylococcal food poisoning); parasites (e.g. Giardia, Cryptosporidium), chemicals and medications (e.g. some antibiotics). The exact cause of gastroenteritis can only be confirmed by laboratory analysis of stool samples.
Typical symptoms include vomiting and/or diarrhoea. Stomach cramps, fever and nausea may also be present.
Gastroenteritis is usually not serious and most people recover quickly. However, sometimes people are unable to drink enough fluids to replace those lost from vomiting and diarrhoea. These people can become dehydrated and may require medical attention. This is especially important for children, the elderly or those suffering from weakened immune systems.
Contact your GP or Healthline (0800 611 116) for further advice.
Gastroenteritis caused by viruses, bacteria and parasites can be easily spread from person to person, especially if hygiene is poor, for example if someone who is ill prepares food for others without washing their hands. This is why it is important to thoroughly wash hands with soap and water after using the toilet and before preparing, handling or eating foods.
Extra care must be taken when cleaning up faecal or vomit matter or items contaminated with these materials. Thoroughly clean and disinfect toilet and bathrooms areas after use.
Exclusion from work, school or childcare
A doctor, nurse or Health Protection Officer can provide advice on this. Usually people can go back to work, school, childcare etc if they are well and have been free of symptoms for at least 48 hours. This is especially important if in a high-risk occupation such as a food handling, caregiving, nursing or childcare centre work.
As people may be infectious for some days after recovery, good personal hygiene is important to prevent spreading the disease. Good hand washing and drying after toileting is vital.
Page last updated: 31/03/2016