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Reviewed by Dr Karina Palad, MD
Written by updoc's Editorial Team
Published 14 July 2023

What You Need To Know About Gastroenteritis (Gastro)

Gastroenteritis, more commonly known as gastro or stomach flu, is a common digestive tract infection that causes inflammation of the stomach and intestines. It is estimated that in Australia there are 1.8 million cases a year.


Recognizing the symptoms of gastroenteritis is essential for early identification and appropriate management. The most common symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting or nausea 
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea and loss of appetite 
  • Fever (not always present, however some individuals may experience a mild fever)

Symptoms can vary in intensity and duration on a case by case basis. Most cases of gastroenteritis resolve within a few days to a week without complications.


Gastroenteritis can be caused by various factors, including:

  • Viral infections such as norovirus, rotavirus, and adenovirus are common causes of gastroenteritis, particularly in children.
  • Bacterial infections like Salmonella, Escherichia coli (E. coli), and Campylobacter, often found in contaminated food or water.
  • Parasitic infection like Giardia and Cryptosporidium can cause gastroenteritis when ingested through contaminated food or water sources.
  • Foodborne illness consuming contaminated or food that is not prepared properly

The transmission of gastro varies depending on the causative agent. Viral and bacterial gastroenteritis can spread through direct contact with infected individuals, contaminated surfaces, or contaminated food and water sources. 


Considering the following preventative measures will be crucial in reducing the chance of infection and/or spread:

  • Hand hygiene especially before preparing or consuming food, after using the restroom, and after handling potentially contaminated surfaces.
  • Practice safe and proper food handling including thorough cooking, avoiding cross-contamination, and refrigerating perishable foods promptly.
  • Clean environment Regularly disinfect surfaces, particularly in high-traffic areas or when someone in the household is infected
  • Consume safe drinking water and be cautious when traveling to areas with limited access to clean water sources.
  • Vaccinations such as the rotavirus vaccine, are available to prevent specific types of gastroenteritis. Consult with a healthcare professional to determine if vaccination is appropriate for you or your child.


Gastro can be diagnosed by an evaluation of symptoms and medical history. In some cases, laboratory tests may be conducted to determine the specific cause of the infection, especially when outbreaks occur or if the symptoms are severe or persistent. Stool samples may be analysed for the presence of viruses, bacteria, or parasites.

It is essential to consult with a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate management of gastroenteritis, particularly if symptoms are severe, persistent, or accompanied by additional concerns such as dehydration or high fever.


Gastro treatment primarily focuses on relieving symptoms, preventing complications, and restoring hydration and electrolyte balance. The following approaches are commonly recommended:

  • Fluid replacement: Replenishing lost fluids and electrolytes is crucial, especially in cases of diarrhea and vomiting. Oral rehydration solutions (ORS) or clear fluids are often recommended to maintain hydration. In severe cases, intravenous fluids may be necessary.
  • Rest and diet modifications: Resting and gradually reintroducing easy-to-digest foods such as broth, toast, and bananas can help support the recovery process. Avoiding certain foods, such as spicy or fatty foods, can help reduce discomfort.
  • Over-the-counter medications: may be used to alleviate symptoms such as diarrhea or nausea. However, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional before taking any medications, especially in children or individuals with underlying medical conditions.
  • Antibiotics: are not effective against viral gastroenteritis, but they may be prescribed in cases of bacterial gastroenteritis or if complications arise. It is essential to follow the prescribed course of antibiotics as directed by a healthcare practitioner

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does gastroenteritis last for?
In general, gastro symptoms typically last for 1 to 3 days, but it is not uncommon for them to persist for up to a week. However, this can vary from case to case.
How contagious is gastro?
Gastro can be highly contagious, especially when caused by viral or bacterial infections. It is important to practice good hygiene, to minimise the risk of spreading the infection.
Does gastro come on suddenly?
Yes, gastro often comes on suddenly. The symptoms, including stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, can appear abruptly and may worsen rapidly. The sudden onset distinguishes it from some other gastrointestinal conditions.
How do doctors check for gastro?
Doctors diagnose gastroenteritis primarily through a physical examination and a review of the patient's symptoms and medical history. In some cases, additional tests may be conducted, such as a stool sample analysis.
Do you need to rest with gastro?
Yes, resting is crucial when you have gastro. The illness can cause dehydration, weakness, and fatigue, so it's important to allow your body to recover.
Can you take a day off because of gastro?
Yes, it is recommended to take a day off if you have gastroenteritis. Resting at home helps you recover and prevents spreading the infection to others. You can start a medical certificate consultation with updoc.

Disclaimer: this can affect individuals differently and on a case by case basis. It it best to consult with your health practitioner to seek medical advice and receive a personalised diagnosis, and treatment plan.

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