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Gastroenteritis can be of viral, bacterial, or parasitic origin. They can result in fever, stomach pain, diarrhea and vomiting. Though most people will completely recover from gastroenteritis caused by viruses, gastroenteritis caused by bacterial or parasitic infection may be far more serious and requires special treatment.
Any case of gastroenteritis can cause dehydration. Drinking eight to twelve glasses of fluids a day can help reduce this risk. The very young and the elderly are at increased risk for this complication of gastroenteritis. Fluid intake should be monitored carefully. If inadequate fluids are received, then hospitalization may be necessary to give intravenous (IV) fluids.
Usually, gastroenteritis resolves within two to three days. If the condition remains present after a couple of days and is accompanied by fever higher than 100 degrees F. (37.77 degrees C.), medical advice should be sought. Persistent gastroenteritis may be indicative of bacterial or parasitic infection, or of other more serious conditions.
Usually if the cause of gastroenteritis is due to bacterial infection, like salmonella, one must take antibiotics to kill the bacteria. However, when the bacterial infection is causing excessive vomiting, taking an oral antibiotic may not be useful, since it can leave the body as quickly as it enters it. In these cases where vomiting is severe, hospitalization may be required to administer an IV antibiotic, and to give IV medications that can help reduce nausea.
Some bacterial infections, like exposure to E. Coli in improperly cooked beef, will almost always result in hospitalization. Children under five are particularly vulnerable to such infections, and care should be taken to always be sure hamburger is cooked until there is not pink left and the juices run completely clear. Many E. Coli infections have resulted from poor cooking methods in fast food restaurants. Parents with kids under the age of five may want to choose chicken meals instead of hamburgers to avoid this risk.
Often, parasitic infections that cause gastroenteritis are the result of ingesting contaminated water from streams, or during travel to undeveloped countries. One should avoid risk by never drinking from streams or lakes, and also by consuming bottle water when traveling to areas that have known water contaminants.
A parasitic infection causing gastroenteritis can result in diarrhea or vomiting that will not resolve within four to five days. It may be accompanied by fever. Usually, parasitic infections will not improve until the person has taken anti-parasitic medications. A physician should examine those with vomiting or diarrhea lasting for more than two to three days.
Gastroenteritis may also be incorrectly diagnosed, when the cause is something completely different. For example, appendicitis can cause pain in the stomach, fever and vomiting or diarrhea. An ectopic pregnancy may also result in symptoms similar to gastroenteritis. It remains important to contact a physician if gastroenteritis symptoms do not quickly resolve, not only to get the necessary treatment for bacterial or parasitic infections, but as well to rule out other possible causes.