Gastroenteritis is the inflammation of the stomach and intestines. It may be caused by bacteria (such as campylobacter, salmonella and shigella), viruses (such as rotavirus or norovirus) or parasites (such as giardia and cryptosporidium).
The main symptoms are diarrhoea and vomiting.
The time from contact with the bacteria or the virus and the development of symptoms is usually
about 1 – 3 days. Parasitic infections take about 5-15 days.
Your doctor will advise you if you need any treatment. Most gastroenteritis infections resolve without treatment. It is very important to drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.
Adults should not return to work until diarrhoea has ceased. Children should not return to child care or school until diarrhoea has ceased for 24 hours. People who work in the food industry or health care professionals should not return to work until diarrhoea has ceased for 48 hours.
Gastroenteritis is highly infectious and can be passed from person to person very easily. The organisms may also be found in contaminated water or food. Gastroenteritis usually spreads when hands, food, objects and surfaces become contaminated with faeces or vomit and the infectious organism is transferred to the mouth when eating, drinking or touching the mouth. For some viruses, spread can also occur via small airborne particles circulating in the air during or after vomiting attacks.
People with gastroenteritis are very infectious while they are feeling unwell and they can continue to be infectious for days or weeks after they have recovered.
Hand washing and good hygiene practices are essential. Hands should be washed with soap and water for at least 15 seconds and dried thoroughly on a disposable or clean towel before handling food and after going to the toilet. Because the vomitus or diarrhoea can be very infectious, it is most important that any spills are cleaned up quickly and appropriately in the following manner.
First protect yourself
- Wear gloves if possible.
- Cover any cuts and abrasions on your hands. Your skin is a protective barrier against you becoming infected from infectious organisms.
- After cleaning up, wash hands with soap and water for at least 15 seconds and dry thoroughly on a disposable or clean towel.
Cleaning up spills
- Where possible, mop up the spills using disposable paper towels or rags which can then be thrown away. Seal these items in a plastic bag before placing in the rubbish bin.
- Good cleaning with hot water and detergent is sufficient to clean up after most gastroenteritis spills.
- It is important to clean all surfaces and objects soiled or possibly soiled during the illness with hot soapy water, rinsing well before drying. This may include toilets, benches, showers, floors, toys, wash basins, taps and door handles.
- Clean and dry the mop thoroughly after use (sunlight is excellent).
- Washable linen and clothing, once any solid material has been removed, can be cleaned by machine washing, with usual laundry detergent, on the hot cycle. Avoid over-loading the machine as this may interfere with rinsing. Additional treatment before or after washing is generally unnecessary and may bleach coloured fabrics.
- Some items may not be suitable for washing, e.g. blankets, mattresses and pillows. Where possible, dry clean if soiled or alternatively leave in the sunlight for several hours after cleaning off areas which are visibly soiled.
- Cleaning up is very important. Poor cleaning up will just spread the virus and increase the risk of infection.
For further information please contact your local doctor, community health centre, nearest population health unit or contact Queensland Health information phone number 13HEALTH.
Heymann, D., ed. 2004. Control of Communicable Diseases Manual, 18th edition. Washington, DC: American Public Health Association.