Acute Infectious Gastroenteritis

"An oral vaccine against one of the most common gastroenteritis viruses, rotavirus, has recently become available in pharmacies".


Infectious gastroenteritis is an inflammation and/or dysfunction of the intestine produced by a germ or its toxins, which results in an alteration of its capacity to regulate the absorption and secretion of salts and water, producing diarrhea.

The toxins can be preformed in the food or be released by the causal agent once ingested and after invading the mucosa from the intestinal lumen.

It is an acute process that heals spontaneously in a few days, which is why we usually speak of acute gastroenteritis.

What are the symptoms of gastroenteritis?

The symptoms that appear most frequently in general are diarrhea (decrease in consistency of the stool with an increase in the number of bowel movements) associated or not with vomiting and cramping abdominal pain, with a constant sensation of defecation.

It does not usually occur with fever or a breakdown of the general condition and generally subsides in 3-5 days. When the causal agent invades the intestinal mucosa and releases its toxin, as is the case with Salmonella, Shigella and Campylobacter, the incubation period is longer (24-48 hours).

It is treated with less voluminous feces and blood and/or mucus can be observed in them. They present intense abdominal pain, fever and chills. Total resolution of the clinical picture may take 10-14 days.

The most common symptoms are:

  • Diarrhea.
  • Abdominal pain.
  • General malaise.

Do you have any of these symptoms?

You may have acute infectious gastroenteritis

What are the causes of gastroenteritis?

In general, intestinal infections are acquired by ingestion of contaminated water or food or by person-to-person transmission through the fecal-oral route.

In the case of Salmonella, which is in our country the most frequently implicated bacterial agent in acute bacterial gastroenteritis, transmission occurs by the ingestion of chickens, chicken eggs and dairy products, with transmission from person to person or by water being rare.

If it is produced as a consequence of the ingestion of preformed toxin ( Vibrio Cholerae, Bacillus cereus, E. Coli enterotoxigenic, S. aureus, Clostridium perfringens, Cryptosporidium), the incubation period until the appearance of symptoms is short (a few hours), the stools are usually abundant and watery, they do not present mucus, blood or pus and abdominal pain is not important.

The probability of contracting an intestinal infection depends on the virulence of the ingested pathogen and its quantity.

Who can suffer from it?

Anyone can suffer from it. Influenced by factors specific to the invaded individual, such as reduced secretion of gastric acids, reduced intestinal motility, alteration of the usual intestinal flora or an immunosuppressed state that can increase susceptibility to infection, reduce the amount of germ required to initiate it and increase its severity.

How is it prevented?

Since the most frequent route of acquisition of an intestinal infection is through contaminated food or water, care must be taken with the state of the ingested products, both their conservation and their cooking.

Not drinking water from rivers or stagnant sources, properly washing vegetables to be eaten raw, avoiding consumption of products that have raw eggs among their ingredients and have been subjected to high temperatures and proper cooking of meats can prevent many intestinal infections.

Recently, an oral vaccine against one of the most frequent viruses that cause gastroenteritis has been available in pharmacies: rotavirus. It is only admitted for administration to very young children.

How is gastroenteritis diagnosed?

The diagnosis of gastroenteritis is made through the patient's symptomatology and, if necessary, a stool culture is performed to find out the causative germ.

Most episodes of acute diarrhea are self-limiting and do not need evaluation. In general, patients simply need adequate hydration with abundant intake of preparations rich in salts and sugar (either homemade or sold in pharmacies) and natural juices.

Children are offered fluids frequently, preferably in small amounts at a time, to prevent vomiting.

How is gastroenteritis treated?

There are many prescription and over-the-counter preparations for the symptomatic relief of diarrhea and abdominal cramps that decrease intestinal motility and/or increase fluid absorption.

They are effective and when used properly, are risk-free. They should be avoided in patients with suspected invasive diarrhea (bloody diarrhea), fever or systemic symptoms, because they inhibit peristalsis and favor the persistence and multiplication of the germ.

As for the use or not of antibiotic treatment, it will depend on the causal organism, as well as on the severity of the infection and the immunological status of the patient.

Most cases do not benefit from the administration of antibiotics. They can prolong the diarrheal picture and the period of transmission of the infection to other people.

Where do we treat it?


The Department of Digestive
of the Clínica Universidad de Navarra

The Digestive Department of the Clinica Universidad de Navarra is composed of a multidisciplinary team of specialists who are experts in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases of the digestive tract.

Our objective is that each diagnosis be carefully established and the treatment plan adjusted to each patient.

Imagen de la fachada de consultas de la sede en Pamplona de la Clínica Universidad de Navarra

Why at the Clinica?

  • Medical specialists who are national references.
  • Specialized nursing team.
  • Endoscopy Unit and High Risk Digestive Tumor Prevention and Consultation Unit to offer the best care to our patients.

Our team of professionals