Bacterial Gastroenteritis (Adult)

Illustration of digestive system: esophagus, liver, stomach, large and small intestines.

You have gastroenteritis. It is an infection in your intestinal tract caused by bacteria (dysentery). Viruses, parasites, and toxins may also cause gastroenteritis. This infection may cause fever, vomiting, stomach cramping, and diarrhea. You may have blood or mucus in your stool. Some of the more common causes of bacterial gastroenteritis include E. coli, salmonella, shigella, campylobacter, and clostridium difficile (C.diff).

Antibiotics are sometimes used to treat this type of infection. Sometimes you may need to wait until a stool culture is done before your healthcare provider gives you an antibiotic. In the meantime, follow the advice below. Don't take antibiotics without your provider's recommendation. This can lead to other complications in certain types of bacterial gastroenteritis.

Home care

Medicines

  • If your healthcare provider prescribed antibiotics, be sure you take them until they are finished.

  • You may use acetaminophen or NSAID medicines like ibuprofen or naproxen to control fever unless another medicine was prescribed. If you have chronic liver or kidney disease, talk with your provider before using these medicines. Also talk with your provider if you've had a stomach ulcer or gastrointestinal bleeding. Don't give aspirin to anyone under 18 years of age who is ill with a fever. It may cause severe liver damage. Don't use NSAID medicines if you are already taking one for another condition (like arthritis) or are on aspirin such as for heart disease or after a stroke.

  • Don't take or give over-the-counter antidiarrhea medicines, unless your healthcare provider prescribed or recommended them. Antidiarrhea medicine may make your symptoms last longer if the cause is an infectious diarrhea.

  • You may be given medicine for nausea and vomiting to help you keep down fluids. Take these medicines as prescribed.

  • Gastroenteritis is transmitted by contact with the stool or vomit of an infected person. This can occur directly from person to person or indirectly from contact with a contaminated surface.

General care

  • If symptoms are severe, rest at home for the next 24 hours, or until you feel better.

  • Washing your hands with soap and water and using alcohol-bases sanitizer is the best way to stop the spread of infection. Wash your hands after touching anyone who is sick.

  • Wash your hands after using the toilet and before meals. Clean the toilet after each use.

  • Don't use tobacco, caffeine, or alcohol. These can make your symptoms worse.

Diet

Liquids are the first step:

  • Water and clear liquids are important so you don't get dehydrated. Drink a small amount at a time or suck on ice chips.

Food

  • People with diarrhea should not make or serve food for others. When making food for yourself, wash your hands before and after.

  • Wash your hands after using cutting boards, countertops, and knives that have touched raw food.

  • Keep uncooked meats away from cooked and ready-to-eat foods.

During the first 24 hours, follow the diet below:

  • Beverages: sport drinks, soft drinks without caffeine, mineral water (plain or flavored), decaffeinated tea and coffee. If you are very dehydrated, sports drinks are not a good choice. They have too much sugar and not enough electrolytes. In this case, commercially available products called oral rehydration solutions, are best.

  • Soups: clear broth, consommé, and bouillon

  • Desserts: plain gelatin, popsicles, and fruit juice bars

During the next 24 hours (the second day), you may add these foods to the above list if you are feeling better. If not, continue what you did the first day:

  • Hot cereal, plain toast, bread, rolls, crackers

  • Plain noodles, rice, mashed potatoes, chicken noodle or rice soup

  • Unsweetened canned fruit (avoid pineapple), bananas

  • Limit fat to less than 15 grams per day. Avoid margarine, butter, oils, mayonnaise, sauces, gravies, fried foods, peanut butter, meat, poultry, and fish.

  • Limit fiber. Avoid raw or cooked vegetables, fresh fruits (except bananas), and bran cereals.

  • Limit dairy

  • Continue to avoid alcohol

  • Limit caffeine and chocolate. No spices or seasonings except salt.

During the next 24 hours:

  • Gradually resume a normal diet, as you feel better and your symptoms improve.

  • If at any time you start feeling worse again, go back to clear liquids until you feel better.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised. If you don't get better in 24 hours, or if your diarrhea lasts more than 1 week. Also follow up if you are unable to keep liquids down and stay hydrated.

If a stool (diarrhea) sample was taken, you can call for the results as directed.

Call 911

Call 911 if any of these occur:

  • Trouble breathing

  • Confused

  • Very drowsy or trouble awakening

  • Fainting or loss of consciousness

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Chest pain

  • Seizure

  • Stiff neck

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Increasing abdominal pain or constant lower right abdominal pain

  • Continued vomiting (unable to keep liquids down)

  • Diarrhea for more than 2 days in adults and 24 hours in children

  • Stools containing blood or pus or black tarry stools

  • Dark urine, reduced urine output

  • Weakness, dizziness

  • Drowsiness

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38.0°C) or higher; or as directed by your healthcare provider

  • New rash

  • If you have muscle weakness or arthritis symptoms during or after your gastroenteritis is gone

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