Gastroenteritis occurs when the stomach and intestines (gastrointestinal tract) become inflamed or infected. The illness, which causes symptoms such as stomachache, diarrhea and vomiting, usually lasts no more than a few days, although in some cases it may last longer. Gastroenteritis is sometimes called the “stomach flu,” although it is not the same as influenza.
Gastroenteritis is usually caused by a virus, bacteria or parasite. Viral gastroenteritis is the most common kind. Gastroenteritis is contagious and can spread from child-to-child through poor hand washing or close contact with a person who has the illness.
In some cases, antibiotic or other treatments are prescribed, although most cases of gastroenteritis get better by themselves. Dehydration is the most common complication, so it’s very important that children with gastroenteritis get enough fluids.
Although there are vaccines to prevent some causes of gastroenteritis, such as rotavirus, the best way to prevent it is to wash your hands frequently, make sure food is carefully cleaned and cooked and don’t share cups and utensils with other people.
Gastroenteritis: Reviewed by Claire McCarthy, MD
© Boston Children’s Hospital, 2012