Bacterial gastroenteritis

Alternative names
Infectious diarrhea - bacterial gastroenteritis; Acute gastroenteritis; Gastroenteritis - bacterial

Bacterial gastroenteritis is an inflammation of the stomach and intestines caused by bacteria or bacterial toxins. (Also see Food poisoning.)

Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Many different types of bacteria can produce the symptoms associated with bacterial gastroenteritis including salmonella, shigella, staphylococcus, Campylobacter jejuni, clostridium, E. coli, yersinia, and others. Some sources of the infection are improperly prepared food, reheated meat dishes, seafood, dairy, and bakery products. Each organism causes slightly different symptoms but all result in diarrhea. Colitis, inflammation of the large intestine, may also be present.

Risk factors are consumption of improperly prepared foods or contaminated water and travel or residence in areas of poor sanitation. The incidence is 1 in 1,000 people.

Related topics:


  • nausea and Vomiting  
  • diarrhea  
  • Loss of appetite  
  • Abdominal pain  
  • Abdominal cramps  
  • Bloody stools

Signs and tests

  • Stool culture positive for causative organism  
  • White blood cells on fecal smear  
  • Examination of food for toxin and bacteria

This disease may also alter the results of the following tests:

  • Stool gram stain  
  • Fecal smear

The objective of treatment is to replace fluids and electrolytes (salt and minerals) lost by diarrhea. Blood transfusions are rarely required.

Antibiotic or antimicrobial therapy is usually not indicated unless systemic involvement is present. Antidiarrheal medications are generally not given because they may prolong the infectious process.

Self-care measures to avoid dehydration include drinking electrolyte solutions to replace fluids lost by diarrhea and eating no solid food until the diarrhea has passed. People with diarrhea who are unable to take oral fluids due to nausea may need medical attention and intravenous fluids, especially young children. People taking diuretics need to be cautious with diarrhea and may need to stop taking the medication during an acute episode as directed by the health care provider.

Expectations (prognosis)
With most infections, symptoms improve with fluid and electrolyte replacement within a week. There are rare cases of patients with renal failure and even death due to the infection.


  • Systemic infection  
  • Dehydration  
  • Anemia (low blood counts)  
  • Kidney failure (rare)

Calling your health care provider
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if diarrhea recurs or persists for more than a week, or if there is blood in stools. Infants and young children become dehydrated more rapidly than adults. Call your provider if your child develops any signs of dehydration, even if it is only a few hours since the onset of illness.

Proper handling, storage, and preparation of food - in addition to good sanitation - are principles of prevention.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 7, 2012
by Sharon M. Smith, M.D.

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All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.