If you have gastroenteritis, the following are recommended to prevent the spread of infection to others:
- Wash your hands thoroughly after going to the toilet. Ideally, use liquid soap in warm running water but any soap is better than none. Dry properly after washing.
- Don't share towels and flannels.
- Don't prepare or serve food for others.
- Regularly clean the toilets that you use, with disinfectant. Wipe the flush handle, toilet seat, bathroom taps, surfaces and door handles with hot water and detergent at least once a day. Keep a cloth just for cleaning the toilet (or use a disposable one each time).
- Stay off work, college, etc, until at least 48 hours after the last episode of diarrhoea or being sick (vomiting).
- Food handlers: if you work with food and develop diarrhoea or vomiting, you must immediately leave the food-handling area. For most, no other measures are needed, other than staying away from work until at least 48 hours after the last episode of diarrhoea or vomiting. Some special situations may arise and sometimes longer time off is needed. Specialist advice may be needed for some uncommon causes of gastroenteritis. If in doubt, seek advice from your employer or GP.
- If the cause of gastroenteritis is known to be (or suspected to be) a microbe called Cryptosporidium spp., you should not swim in swimming pools for two weeks after the last episode of diarrhoea.
Can gastroenteritis be prevented?
The advice given in the previous section is mainly aimed at preventing the spread of infection to other people. However, even when we are not in contact with someone with gastroenteritis, proper storage, preparation and cooking of food and good hygiene help to prevent gastroenteritis.
In particular, always wash your hands:
- After you go to the toilet.
- Before you touch food.
- Between handling raw meat and food ready to be eaten. (There may be some germs (bacteria) on raw meat.)
- After gardening.
- After playing with pets (healthy animals can carry certain harmful bacteria).
The simple measure of washing hands regularly and properly is known to make a big difference to the chance of developing gastroenteritis.
You should also take extra measures when in countries which have poor sanitation. For example, avoid water and other drinks that may not be safe and avoid food washed in unsafe water.
Further reading and references
Freeman MC, Stocks ME, Cumming O, et al; Hygiene and health: systematic review of handwashing practices worldwide and update of health effects. Trop Med Int Health. 2014 Aug19(8):906-16. doi: 10.1111/tmi.12339. Epub 2014 May 28.
Acute diarrhoea in adults: racecadotril; NICE Evidence Summary New Medicine, March 2013
Gastroenteritis; NICE CKS, July 2015 (UK access only)
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