Intestinal infections are one of the most common infections that affect millions of people around the world, and are more prevalent in developing countries. These types of infections are caused by bacteria, virus, yeast, fungus, and parasitic organisms. These pathogenic organisms affect the gastrointestinal tract, and go on to cause infections in the stomach and the intestines. The infection-causing microorganisms in the gastrointestinal tract can lead to inflammation, besides a host of other related symptoms.
Symptoms will vary according to the type of infection. Here is a list of the types of intestinal infections along with their related symptoms.
Bacterial Infections: Types and Symptoms
When the intestinal infection is caused by bacteria, it is termed as a bacterial intestinal infection or bacterial gastroenteritis. The pathogenic bacteria invades the intestines and causes inflammation. It enters the human body through the intake of contaminated food, water, and undercooked meat. It grows and multiplies in the contaminated food, and when ingested, can cause an infection. Poor hygiene, especially not washing hands before eating, or improper handling of food, can also lead to a bacterial infection.
☛ Escherichia Coli:
Also known as E. coli, the rod-shaped Escherichia coli bacteria are found in the intestinal tract. While most strains of this bacteria are harmless, some of the E. coli strains can result in food poisoning, especially when they are passed on through contaminated water, undercooked meat, raw milk, and fecal contamination of food.
The common symptoms of a food-borne disease caused by E. coli include abdominal cramps and bloody diarrhea. This can be accompanied by vomiting and fever. While most people recover within ten days, in certain cases, it can cause a life-threatening condition known as haemolytic-uraemic syndrome, which is characterized by renal failure.
☛ Shigella Infection
Direct contact with bacteria in the stool, especially when changing diapers, intake of contaminated food and water, can lead to this intestinal infection. The shigella bacteria releases toxins that attack the intestinal lining, leading to inflammation and ulcers. The infection is also known as shigellosis.
Abdominal cramps, diarrhea with blood or mucus, loss of appetite, painful bowel movements, and fever, are some symptoms of this infection. Severe diarrhea can even lead to dehydration. Severe cases of shigellosis can lead to headaches, stiff neck, and convulsions. Complications like arthritis and kidney failure are also reported in certain cases. This infection is highly contagious.
☛ Salmonella Infection
Also known as Salmonellosis, this bacterial infection is caused by the intake of contaminated poultry or tainted vegetables and fruits.
It can lead to severe diarrhea with bloody stools, fever, chills, muscle pain, headaches, vomiting, and pain in the stomach. In extremely rare cases, the Salmonellosis can cause a life-threatening typhoid fever.
☛ Clostridium Difficile Infection
An anaerobic bacteria that is usually present in the gut, the Clostridium difficile, also known as C. difficile, often causes no problems in healthy individuals. However, when the antibiotics kill the good bacteria in the gut, it can lead to an overpopulation of the C. difficile bacteria, and result in colitis.
Mild form of the colitis produces symptoms like low-grade fever, mild abdominal pain, tenderness around the abdomen, and mild diarrhea. However, once the colitis is severe, it can lead to high fever, severe diarrhea with blood, nausea, dehydration, and excessive stomach pain.
☛ Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) Infection:
The Helicobacter pylori, also known as H. pylori, is a type of bacteria that is responsible for infection and swelling of the stomach, and sometimes the duodenum (first part of the small intestine). It is passed on from one person to another, through saliva, and is also present in fecal matter and vomit. Intake of contaminated food and water is one of the major causes of this bacterial infection. Usually seen in developing countries, this infection is more common in children.
It can lead to peptic or duodenal ulcers, acute gastritis, pain in the stomach, and nausea. Bloating, frequent burping, and gradual weight loss are some other symptoms of this infection.
Other intestinal infection due to bacteria include: Vibrio spp, Bacillus, Campylobacter spp, Yersinia enterocolitica, Aeromonas spp and Listeria spp.
Viral Infections: Types and Symptoms
Viral intestinal infections, also known as viral gastroenteritis or stomach flu, are mainly caused by rotavirus, adenovirus, astrovirus, and the genus Norovirus. The virus is often passed through the fecal oral route, and results in inflammation of the lining of the stomach and intestines.
One of the main reasons for viral gastroenteritis in children, rotavirus is commonly seen in infants in the age group of three to fifteen years. It can pass onto children when they put infected objects in their mouth. There is a vaccine which helps in preventing rotavirus in children.
The common signs are watery stools, vomiting, fever, and low abdominal pain. Adults can be infected with this form of gastroenteritis as well, but the symptoms are extremely mild in that case.
This is a type of calicivirus that can lead to epidemic gastroenteritis. It is also known as the 'winter vomiting bug', as it generally infects people in the winters. In fact, it is one of the leading causes of acute viral gastroenteritis outbreaks, and each year 23 million people are affected with this virus and suffer from severe vomiting and diarrhea. It is highly contagious, and can easily pass on from one person to another when they come in contact.
Diarrhea, vomiting, muscle aches, fatigue, headaches, and nausea are some of the common symptoms of this infection.
Other viruses that cause diarrhea and vomiting, especially in infants and younger children, include adenovirus and astrovirus.
Parasitic Infections: Types and Symptoms
☛ Pinworm Infection
Pinworm or threadworm infection affect the large intestine, and are usually caused by the intake of contaminated food and water. When the adult pinworm lays eggs in the anal region, it leads to intense itching. When scratched, the eggs transfer to the fingers. In case the hands are not washed properly, it can contaminate several places in the house. Pinworm infection is usually seen in school-going children.
Common signs are itching in the anal and vaginal region (in girls), along with pain in the abdomen, disturbed sleep, weight loss, and poor appetite. The scratching can lead to secondary infections.
☛ Tapeworm Infection
When feces and contaminated soil containing tapeworm eggs are ingested, it can lead to Hymenolepiasis or tapeworm infection.
In most cases, a tapeworm infection is asymptomatic. However, when the symptoms do appear, they include fatigue, lack of appetite, nausea, vomiting, disturbed sleep, and excess weight loss.
Also known as roundworm infection, ascariasis is a parasitic infection that affects the small intestine, especially in children. When children ingest soil containing roundworm eggs, it can lead to this infection.
When the eggs hatch in the small intestine, and the larvae move up to the lungs to mature, it can cause wheezing, chronic cough, difficulty in breathing, and fever. When the mature larvae move back to the intestine to multiply, it results in watery, loose stools, nausea, vomiting, severe abdominal cramps, and weight loss. This infection is not contagious and cannot pass on from one person to another.
Caused by the parasite called Giardia intestinalis protozoa, giardiasis is an infection that may affect a person when he or she has consumed contaminated food or water. This parasitic infection can also spread from one person to another.
The common signs of giardiasis include watery, loose stools with a foul odor, bloating, slight fever, burping fatigue, loss of appetite, and weight loss.
Treatment for Bacterial Intestinal Infections
In adults and children, oral rehydration solutions need to be administered to deal with the dehydration caused by diarrhea and vomiting. In case of severe dehydration, intravenous fluids may have to be administered. To deal with the gastroenteritis, medications like Ciprofloxacin (Cipro), Rifaximin (Xifaxan), Cefixime (Suprax), Ceftriaxone (Rocephin) and Vancomycin (Vancocin) may be prescribed. To deal with the diarrhea, Lomotil or Imodium can be given. For excessive vomiting, especially in children, Ondansetron (Zofran) can be prescribed.
The treatment for H. pylori infection includes antibiotic therapy to remove the bacteria from the stomach and intestines, along with antacid therapy to decrease acid secretion. Antibiotics like Metronidazole and Tetracycline can be prescribed to control the bacteria. Antacid therapy with H2 blocker medications and proton pump inhibitors can decrease the acid secretion in the stomach. It is also advisable to stop smoking and consuming alcohol when infected by the bacteria.
Treatment for Viral Gastroenteritis
Vomiting and diarrhea are one of the main side effects of viral intestinal infections. This can lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalance in the body. To replace this deficiency, electrolyte and fluid replacement solutions should be given regularly. Antidiarrheal medications can be prescribed for excessive diarrhea.
Treatment for Parasitic Intestinal Infections
Prescription medications like Metronidazole (Flagyl), Nitazoxanide (Alinia) or Mebendazole (Vermox) can be used for treating parasitic infections. Avoid sugary foods and drinks. Instead, have plenty of water and high-fiber foods like vegetables and fruits, to improve bowel movement. Certain foods like garlic, beets, and pumpkin seeds can help in dealing with parasitic infections. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends treating all school children with deworming drugs regularly to prevent weight loss, poor growth, and malnutrition. This should be especially done in areas where the helminth infection is common.
To keep an intestinal infection at bay, it is important that you maintain good personal hygiene, along with healthy eating habits. Wash your hands regularly and handle your food properly. Stay away from foods like cauliflower and onions that are difficult to digest. Instead, have bananas, rice and toast, which are easier on the digestive tract. Have well-cooked food and wash raw fruits and vegetables before eating them. In case of persistent symptoms that do not improve over time, it is best to get yourself examined by a physician.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for professional medical advice.