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Gastrointestinal Illness Toolbox

Resources for Healthcare Providers

One of the most common reasons why patients seek medical attention is gastroenteritis. Gastroenteritis is defined as an illness with one or more of the following symptoms: nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea. Gastroenteritis can be caused by infectious and noninfectious means, but gastroenteritis is frequently caused by consuming food or water contaminated with bacteria or viruses. Gastrointestinal illness can also be acquired through contact with other ill people, animals, or contaminated surfaces. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 48 million illnesses, 128,000 hospitalizations, and 3,000 deaths per year in the United States are caused by food contaminated with bacteria or viruses that cause gastroenteritis.

Testing everyone with gastroenteritis is not practical or cost effective. However, healthcare providers may pursue testing to determine the cause of illness if they suspect certain serious infections or a possible association with an outbreak of disease. Stool samples may be collected to detect some organisms, including E. coli, Salmonella, or Norovirus, while a blood sample might be the more appropriate specimen if other infections such as Hepatitis A virus are suspected. Knowing the specific organism causing gastroenteritis is important for both patient care and the community, in case the illness is due to a highly contagious organism. To determine if an organism is spreading within a community or to prevent further spread, PUBLIC HEALTH staff collects epidemiologic information. Epidemiologic investigations gather information related to the potential source of gastroenteritis such as foods eaten in the last 4 days, the source of drinking water, animal exposures, and recent travel.

Although contaminated food and water are assumed to be the most common sources of gastrointestinal illness, it is often very difficult to actually find the agent in the suspected food or water. Very low concentrations of the organism or unique characteristics of the products being tested contribute to the testing difficulty. However, in support of an outbreak investigation, public health staff may collect samples of food or water for testing in an attempt to pinpoint the source of infection.

The links on this page contain disease-specific information and Idaho disease trends. Tools for healthcare providers managing cases of gastroenteritis, including diagnostic tests available through the IDAHO BUREAU OF LABORATORIES and legal reporting requirements can also be found in the links.

Tools

QUICK PATHOGEN REFERENCE TABLE

A table that includes typical clinical features, incubation periods, durations of illness, common risk-factors and sources, testing recommendations, and reporting guidelines for both reportable and non-reportable enteric pathogens.

DETAILED PATHOGEN INFORMATION

Detailed information on specific reportable enteric pathogens, including links to disease-specific CDC and Idaho information.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES