Intestinal infections affect people differently, but some of the most common symptoms include intestinal distress and an upset stomach. Although an intestinal infection is fairly common for people of all ages, it can be difficult to get to the root of the cause.

We’ll discuss the most common causes of an intestinal infection, as well as a few tips to prevent the infection or how to treat one if you get one.

Intestinal Infection Symptoms

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Depending on the cause of your infection, the symptoms may vary.

You may experience one symptom or a combination of a few:

  • Weak appaetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Cramping or pain in your abdomen
  • Bloating
  • Blood in your stools
  • Fever

Health professionals strongly recommend calling your doctor if symptoms don’t improve or worsen after five days. Children with an intestinal infection should seek medical attention after two days.

If your infant is under three months old and exhibits any of the symptoms, it’s important to call your doctor right away. Call your doctor within 12 hours if your older infant continues to have symptoms.

Major And Common Causes Of Intestinal Infections

Intestinal infections are typically either viral, bacterial, or parasitic.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the common causes of intestinal infections.

Viral Intestinal Infections

Viral gastroenteritis, which is better known as the stomach flu, is not the same as influenza (which affects your respiratory system). A viral infection that results in the stomach flu is often the result of eating or drinking contaminated food and water or sharing food with someone who has a viral infection.


The norovirus is one of the most common foodborne illnesses, which can cause intestinal infections. The virus affects the lining of your small intestines and makes it difficult to absorb essential fluids and nutrients.

The norovirus is common because it is frequently transmitted from infected workers who touch ready-to-eat food or through sharing food with an infected individual. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates up to 20 million norovirus illnesses per year.


Another viral infection includes the rotavirus, which occurs when an individual infects themselves with the virus by putting contaminated objects in their mouth. Rotavirus affects infants and children more often than adults, since they are more likely to put hands and objects in their mouths.

The best way to avoid a viral infection is to practice handwashing and good hygiene. Disinfecting surfaces throughout your home can also help to prevent the infection from occuring. If you know that someone has a viral infection, it’s best to avoid direct contact and always avoid sharing utensils, cups, and towels with others, especially if you suspect a viral infection.

Viral infections are common while traveling, so it’s often best to drink bottled water and only eat food that is properly cooked.

Bacterial Gastroenteritis

woman using hot compress to relieve stomach pain

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If the cause of your infection is bacterial, you likely caught the bacterial infection from food.

Some of the most common causes of bacterial gastroenteritis include:

  • E. coli from ground beef and salads
  • Staphylococcus from dairy, meat, and eggs
  • Shigella from water in public swimming pools
  • Salmonella from meat, dairy, and eggs
  • Campylobacter from meats and poultry

A bacterial infection is common when restaurants serve contaminated foods to patrons or if a recall has been reported after an outbreak. The infection can also be transmitted from one person to another if the bacteria is present on someone’s hand.

Although it can be difficult to determine if the food you’re eating is contaminated, practicing good hygiene, cleaning your cooking surfaces, and ensuring that your food is cooked to the right temperature can help reduce your risk of a bacterial infection.

It’s also important to pay attention to any food recalls and never consume food that has been recalled, even if you do cook it properly.

Intestinal Parasites

Another common cause of intestinal infections is an intestinal parasite, but when people have a parasite, they often mistake it as food poisoning.

Giardia Lamblia

Giardia lamblia is a common parasite that contaminates water supplies and may also be in swimming pools or lakes. People become infected when they swallow the contaminated water. Giardia may be more frequent in underdeveloped countries.

Other intestinal parasites include intestinal worms. Although intestinal parasites are less common in the U.S., various intestinal worms can be a common cause of intestinal infections in people of all ages.


A hookworm attaches itself to the small intestine and is also a common cause of anemia. The symptoms mimic other types of intestinal infections, but a stool examination can properly diagnose the parasite.


Humans can get tapeworms by eating infected meats that have not been cooked properly. Despite the transmission through consuming meat, many cases in the U.S. include contact with human feces. Tapeworms obstruct the intestine, have non-specific systems, and can be diagnosed through a stool sample.


The echinococcosis worm is commonly found in the intestine of sheep and dogs. Humans may become infected with the parasite when they live in close proximity with sheep and dogs. While poor hygiene habits are a common way of transmitting the parasite to humans, it is also possible to ingest the eggs when food and water are contaminated.

Diagnosis And Treatment

Diagnosing intestinal infections can be difficult because the symptoms are often the same, but the treatment options need to be different. Since intestinal infections may have complications, especially if left untreated, it’s important to contact your doctor when symptoms continue or do not improve.

Viral infections do not respond well to antibiotics, so often the only way to treat a viral infection is to “wait it out.”If your doctor diagnoses a bacterial infection, antibiotics and rest are effective at clearing up the infections.In many cases where parasites are the cause, medication is prescribed.

Parasitic infections may take longer to clear up depending on the severity of the infection. Even after an infection clears up, lingering symptoms of abdominal pain or distress is possible.Regardless of the root of your infection, if symptoms worsen or don’t improve while you are treating the infection contact your doctor right away.

If you have an infection in your intestine, your doctor may ask you to stay out of contact with others until your symptoms clear. Even if you have no appetite or are unable to keep food down, it’s important to stay adequately hydrated to avoid complications like dehydration.

As you regain your appetite, it’s important to start eating small meals with bland food. Foods that are easy-to-digest include bananas, soda crackers, rice, and dry toast.

If you start to feel nauseous, or other symptoms return, stop eating.Avoid eating foods that contain dairy or are spicy, as they may upset your stomach and worsen your symptoms.

Prevention Tips

Even if you practice good prevention, intestinal infections may occur, but your chances are less likely. Much like the diagnosis and treatment of infections, tips for preventing the infection may vary.

Most Common Causes Of Intestinal Infection

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Handwashing. Whether you work in a restaurant setting or are cooking food at home, you should always wash your hand before coming in contact with food (whether it’s raw or cooked).

Teach your children to wash hands at an early age, especially after playing outside, with friends, or attending school or daycare. Children are at a greater risk of intestinal infections because they put more things in their mouth and are less likely to wash their hands thoroughly or on a regular basis.

Keeping your kitchen clean, storing food at a safe temperature and cooking meat and eggs to a proper temperature can help reduce the risk of infection. If you are ever in doubt about the safety of a food item, don’t take the risk of eating it (throw it away instead).

No one likes to throw out food, but if a food item has been recalled (such as frozen vegetables or meat), it’s best to throw it away or return to the store to see if you qualify for a refund. Recalls are typically a warning to keep consumers safe, but you should never take the risk of eating a potentially contaminated food.

Intestinal infections are common, but with proper prevention, you can keep you and your family healthier during stomach flu outbreaks or when food is recalled.