Gastroenteritis (tummy bug) is a general term for diarrhoea and vomiting caused by viruses (eg norovirus), bacteria (eg salmonella), bacterial toxins (eg Staphylococcal food poisoning), parasites (eg giardia) and some chemicals or medications.
Gastroenteritis is highly infectious, very easily spread from person to person and it is very important to keep away from anyone with gastro symptoms, and to avoid any public place if you know you are sick or think that you may have gastroenteritis.
The symptoms of gastroenteritis are:
- nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea
- stomach cramps, headache and low-grade fever
- chills and muscle aches
Preventing the spread
To prevent spreading gastroenteritis to other people:
isolate yourself or the sick person you are looking after; put them in their own room and prevent others from entering unless necessary
- stay away from other people until well and for 48 hours after the last episode of vomiting or diarrhoea (this means keeping children home from school or day-care, and staying away from work)
- avoid preparing food for others if possible
- cook all food thoroughly
- wash hands thoroughly after using the toilet, before preparing food and before eating. Wash hands thoroughly after cleaning up from a sick person.
- wash and dry your hands well using soap and water and, ideally, follow this with hand sanitiser
- avoid vomiting in sinks or shared basins/surfaces. The toilet is the best place.
- clean up vomit or excretia using gloves (if available), detergent and hot water followed by bleach (household bleach diluted 1part bleach to 10 parts water), or a bleach-based disinfectant
- immediately remove and wash any contaminated clothes and bedding using detergent and hot water
Looking after yourself, and others, at home
Most people with gastroenteritis can treat themselves at home, and help prevent other family members catching it by following good hygiene. Staying at home also helps prevent the spread in the community because you can be infectious for up to 48 hours after symptoms cease.
There is no specific treatment for gastroenteritis. Dehydration is the main cause of illness; to prevent this:
- drink plenty of plain water and oral rehydration drinks that can be bought from pharmacies and some supermarkets
- don’t take medicines to stop vomiting or diarrhoea (unless prescribed by a doctor) as these will stop your body from getting rid of the gastroenteritis virus
When to see a doctor
People are advised to see a doctor if they, or a family member:
has blood in their vomit
- gets any new or worse symptoms
- has vomiting or diarrhoea for longer than three days
- becomes badly dehydrated. Signs of dehydration include:
- little or no urine passed in the last 8 hours and the urine is dark and smelly
- reduced saliva in their mouth, no tears, sunken eyes, sunken fontanelle in infants
- dizziness, lethargy (no energy), floppiness, a rapid heart rate and breathing, cool hands and feet or grey cold skin
- their skin doesn’t relax after being pinched.
Contact your GP or Healthline (0800 611 116) for further advice.
Page last updated: 18/05/2018