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What are the Different Types of Gastrointestinal Infection?

By Felicia Dye
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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In medical terminology "gastro" refers to the stomach. A gastrointestinal infection is one that affects the stomach or intestines and generally results in diarrhea. Some infections, such as E. coli and shingella, are caused by bacteria. Others, such as Norwalk and Sapporo, are caused by viruses. Giardia is a gastrointestinal infection that is caused by parasites.

Many of these infections are highly contagious. A gastrointestinal infection can be spread if a person with traces of the germs on his hands touches another person or another person’s food. Salmonella is a bacterial infection that is transmitted in this manner. It is often found in eggs and chicken. If those products are not properly handled or not thoroughly cooked, people can get sick.

Shingella is also a gastrointestinal infection caused by bacteria. Shingella is usually transmitted by ingesting a contaminated substance such as water. The bacteria can cause dysentery, which is a medical condition where the intestine swells. The mucus that lines the intestinal wall generally begins to break down and can become obvious in bowel movements. A person can also develop bleeding ulcers as a result of this infection.

E. coli is a gastrointestinal infection that can cause a person to have bloody diarrhea. This infection is caused by bacteria that are often found in food, such as partially raw beef. Once a person becomes infected with E. coli, he is likely to suffer harsh cramps. If he is not careful to thoroughly wash his hands after a trip to the bathroom, the infection can easily spread throughout his home or workplace.

Giardia is a parasite with a hard shell that can live in a person’s intestine and cause him to be ill. When an infected person has a bowel movement, the parasite and a large amount of germs are released. Giardia is transmitted primarily through ingestion. Since the parasite tends to be resistant to chlorine, a small amount of contaminated water that is swallowed while swimming is enough to lead to infection. Animals also carry the bacteria, and their waste often contaminates natural water sources such as lakes and ponds where people may also become infected.

The Norwalk virus, named after the place in Ohio where it was discovered, has many of the same characteristics as gastrointestinal infections caused by bacteria or parasites. The infection often spreads when people with contaminated hands come into contact with a food source. Seafood that is eaten raw or partially cooked can also transmit the virus, since many water sources are contaminated by animal and human waste. A positive difference with the Norwalk virus, however, is that it generally causes shorter and milder infections than many bacteria and parasites.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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