Gastrointestinal infections can cause diarrhea, vomiting, and many other unpleasant symptoms. Bacteria, viruses, and parasites can cause gastrointestinal infections. Treatment typically focuses on staying hydrated and getting plenty of rest but may vary depending on the type of infection.
Bacterial gastroenteritis happens when bacteria cause an infection in your gut. This causes inflammation in your stomach and intestines. You may also experience symptoms like vomiting, severe abdominal cramps, and diarrhea. While viruses cause many gastrointestinal infections, bacterial infections are also common. Some people call this infection “food poisoning.”
Bacterial: Bacterial gastroenteritis can result from poor hygiene. Infection can also occur after close contact with animals or consuming food or water contaminated with bacteria (or the toxic substances bacteria produce).
Viral: Viral gastrointestinal infections are very common, and often people refer to these as the stomach flu. Norovirus is a type of viral gastroenteritis.
Parasitic: Intestinal helminths, or worms, and protozoan parasites cause parasitic gastrointestinal infections. The two most common parasitic infections are giardiasis and cryptosporidiosis. Contact with human feces in the soil can spread these parasites. People can also contract these infections by drinking or swimming in contaminated water. Some parasitic infections can spread from animals to humans. These include toxoplasmosis, which people can come into contact with in cat feces.
Some gastrointestinal infections, particularly parasitic infections, require a prescription medication from a doctor. However, many cases of gastrointestinal illnesses will get better without medical treatment or intervention.
Most of the time, a person can help their immune system fight off the infection at home by getting plenty of rest and drinking lots of water. In most cases, self-care measures are the recommended treatment. Antibiotics will not help GI infections from viruses or parasites.
Although antibiotics can help with complicated cases of bacterial infection, in uncomplicated cases, antibiotics may actually prolong the condition and increase risk of relapse.
Additionally, in certain infections, antibiotics may lead to dangerous complications. Your doctor can help determine if you or your child need antibiotics.