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What Are the Symptoms of Intestinal Infection?

Infections of the intestine typically present with symptoms such as abdominal pain or cramps, nausea, fever, chills, diarrhea, headache, and bloody stools

Signs and symptoms of an intestinal infection, also called gastroenteritis, vary depending on the cause of the infection. Infections of the intestine typically present with symptoms such as:

  • Abdominal pain or cramps
  • Nausea with or without vomiting
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Blood in stools

Symptoms usually subside within 2-3 days. However, you should seek medical treatment if you notice the following:

  • High-grade fever (102 F or higher)
  • Severe or worsening abdominal pain
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Persistent vomiting
  • Persistent diarrhea
  • Blood in stools
  • Altered mental status or confusion
  • Inability to eat
  • Excessive lethargy, drowsiness, or fever especially in children
  • Infants and children with signs of dehydration, such as sunken soft spot on the head, infrequent urination, dark-colored urine, absence of tears when crying

What causes intestinal infections?

Intestinal infection may be caused by a virus, bacteria, or parasites.

  • Virus: Viral gastroenteritis or stomach flu (not caused by the influenza virus) is one of the most common causes of intestinal infections. It can easily spread from an infected person when sharing food or beverages, even if the infected person does not have symptoms. Common causes of viral gastroenteritis include:
    • Rotavirus
    • Norovirus
    • Adenovirus
    • Astrovirus
    • Sapovirus
  • Bacteria: Although less common than viral gastroenteritis, bacterial gastroenteritis can cause severe illness. Bacterial gastroenteritis is generally more common in adults than children and is more likely to cause symptoms such as bloody diarrhea and high fever. Like viral gastroenteritis, bacterial gastroenteritis can spread through close contact with an infected person. Some of the causes of bacterial gastroenteritis include:
    • E coli
    • Salmonella
    • Staphylococcus
    • Campylobacter
    • Shigella
    • Vibrio
    • C difficile
    • C perfringens
  • Parasites: Parasites are disease-causing organisms that live on or in a host organism. Parasitic infections are generally transmitted through infected food or water. The infected person may have a parasite in their body despite the absence of any symptoms. Common causes include:
    • Giardia
    • Cryptosporidium
    • Entamoeba histolytica

How do you treat an intestinal infection?

Treatment of an intestinal infection mainly depends on the cause and severity of symptoms. General treatment measures may include:

  • Plenty of fluids, such as an oral rehydration solution, water, and clear soups. Fluids must be taken in sips and small amounts at a time. Larger quantities may provoke vomiting. Breast milk or formula milk may be given to babies.
  • Adequate rest may help speed up recovery.
  • Antibiotics may be prescribed in case of bacterial gastroenteritis.
  • Eat small, bland meals, such as bananas, applesauce, crackers, toast, or rice.
  • Avoid sugary drinks or concentrated juices, dairy, fatty or spicy foods, alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine, as these can worsen the symptoms.

SLIDESHOW

Bacterial Infections 101: Types, Symptoms, and Treatments
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Medically Reviewed on 2/2/2022

References

Image Source: iStock Images

MUSC. Gastroenteritis. https://muschealth.org/medical-services/ddc/patients/digestive-diseases/stomach-and-duodenum/gastroenteritis

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vessel Sanitation Program. https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/vsp/pub/faq/faq.htm

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