Gastroenteritis and Dehydration

gastro dehydration

Dehydration is the most common risk associated with gastroenteritis (gastro), a digestive illness causing diarrhoea and vomiting which results in the loss of fluids.

When symptoms are severe and a person is unable to replace lost fluids, intravenous fluid replacement may be necessary, better known as a ‘drip’ which injects fluids directly into the bloodstream.

Recent gastroenteritis outbreaks in NSW in July 2016 have seen more than 3000 people attending emergency rooms with almost 800 admitted to hospital for treatment in only two weeks.

Although children and elderly people are most at risk, an abnormally high number of young adults have also presented with gastro, suggesting that a new strain of virus might be responsible.

Causes and Symptoms:

Gastro can be caused by viruses, bacteria, parasites, bacterial toxins, chemicals and medication.  Infectious strains of gastro are the result of viruses, bacteria or parasites which have been ingested.

Infection is spread through eating or drinking contaminated food or water, handling animals or contact with microscopic amounts of faeces or vomit from an infected person.

Symptoms of gastro include vomiting, diarrhoea, nausea, stomach cramps or pain, loss of appetite, fever and headaches.


As dehydration is the greatest risk, replacing lost fluids is the main treatment for gastro.  Taking small sips of water every five to ten minutes is the best way to do this.

Using an electrolyte drink such as Thorzt is also recommended as sodium (salt) is lost through vomiting and diarrhoea.  Salt and other electrolytes are necessary for maintaining hydration and good mental and physical performance.

Acute gastro is one of the few situations where severe hyponatremia or salt loss might occur.  The symptoms include muscle cramps, nausea, dizziness and vomiting and it can eventually lead to a coma or death.

Unless otherwise directed by a doctor, anti-vomiting and anti-diarrhoea drugs aren’t recommended as they keep the infection inside the body.  Antibiotics and medications can only be prescribed if the gastro is caused by bacteria or parasites.

You should go to a doctor or hospital if you can’t keep down fluids, you feel dizzy when you stand or if your symptoms significantly worsen.


As gastro can be highly contagious, it is important to limit the spread of infection.  Here are some tips for reducing your risk of getting coming down with it this winter:

  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling animals, going to the toilet, changing nappies, using a tissue, preparing or eating food and smoking.
  • Regularly clean toilets, bathrooms and baby change tables.
  • Disposable paper towels for drying hands are safer than cloth towels.
  • Thoroughly cook foods and prepare and store raw and cooked foods separately.
  • Only drink bottled water when travelling in countries with poor sanitation.
  • If you have gastro, don’t prepare or handle other people’s food and stay home while you are unwell until you have been symptom-free for 24 hours.

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