Gastroenteritis is an inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, specifically the stomach and small intestines. Colloquially, it is known as infectious diarrhea, often combining diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal pain. While generally lasting less than two weeks, it may also include fever, lethargy and dehydration. Many people confuse it with a stomach flu, but it is not related to influenza.
Gastroenteritis can result from virus infection, bacterial infection, a parasite or a fungus, with viruses being the most common cause. Infection may occur through ingesting improperly prepared food, drinking contaminated water, or close contact with an infected person. In general, frequent hand washing with a good antibacterial soap, as well as drinking only clean water can help prevent contracting gastroenteritis. For the most part, treatment consists of staying hydrated (drinking plenty of fluids) and rest.
In the developed world, gastroenteritis is frequently nothing more than a bad illness that is simply called the stomach flu. Gastroenteritis is the second most common infection in the United States, after the common cold. In the developing world, however, gastroenteritis can be more serious, especially in children. Of the three to five billion cases of gastroenteritis worldwide each year, there are more than 1.4 million deaths as a result. Most of the deaths, however, are in children under the age of five.