How to Avoid Gastro When Family Has It 

Mum on carer's leave looking after daughter with gastro.

Every parent knows the drill: your child returns home from school, and before you know it, the unsettling signs of gastro start to surface. This familiar situation doesn’t have to lead to a household outbreak. 

In this guide, we show you how to implement a ‘gastro stop’ plan in your home, effectively safeguarding your family from this common school-spread ailment. From understanding the contagious nature of gastro to recognising its stages in adults, we provide practical tips and advice on preventing the spread of gastro after exposure. 

What is Gastro?

Gastroenteritis, commonly known as “gastro,” is an intestinal infection marked by symptoms of diarrhoea, cramps, nausea, vomiting, and sometimes fever. It’s usually caused by a virus, but bacteria or parasites can also be culprits. Gastro symptoms are highly contagious, often spreading through contact with an infected person or consuming contaminated food or water.

Is Gastro Contagious?

Gastro is highly contagious. It can spread rapidly, especially in environments like schools, childcare centres, and nursing homes. The leading causes behind the spread of gastro are viruses, bacteria, and parasites. These pathogens can easily transfer from person to person contact, contaminated food and water, and contaminated surfaces and objects.

How is Gastro Spread?

Gastro is a nasty stomach flu with a knack for making unwelcome appearances, especially in close-knit communities like schools and family homes. So, how does gastro spread? It’s mostly a tale of close contact, communal sharing, and not implementing effective gastro-stop measures.

Close Contact is Key

Gastro spreads primarily through direct contact with an infected person. Think about those moments when you’re looking after someone during carer’s leave or when kids share stationery in school. The virus or bacteria from an infected person can easily hitch a ride on your hands and make its way to your system. This highlights the importance of gastro-stop strategies such as hand hygiene when caring for someone or when children arrive home from school.

The Sharing Saga

As humans, we love to share, but sometimes, this kind of habit backfires. Sharing utensils, cups, drink bottles, and even towels can be a highway for gastro to travel from one person to another. It’s like sharing a bit of love but with unwanted germs.

The Culprit of Contamination

Eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water are classic routes for gastro to find new hosts. This can happen if food is prepared by someone who’s infected or if it’s washed with contaminated water.

Surface Surprise

Surfaces can be deceptive. They might look clean but can harbour gastro-causing viruses or bacteria. Touching these surfaces and then touching your mouth or face is like unknowingly opening the door for gastro to enter.

Remember, gastro doesn’t need a VIP pass to spread; it finds the simplest ways to make its presence known. The key to preventing gastro lies in good hygiene practices – a simple yet powerful weapon. Wash those hands, keep your personal items to yourself, and be mindful of what you eat and drink – then remind your family to do the same.

A parent trying to prevent gastro.

How Long is Gastro Contagious For?

Gastro remains contagious for quite some time, before and after symptoms appear. The length of time someone is contagious depends on the cause of the gastro.

Viral Gastroenteritis

If gastro is caused by a common virus like norovirus or rotavirus, individuals are typically contagious from the moment they start feeling ill until at least three days after recovery. However, some viruses can remain in the stool and continue to be contagious for two weeks or more after symptoms have subsided.

Bacterial Gastroenteritis

When gastro is due to bacteria such as E. coli or Salmonella, the contagious period can last from a few days to several weeks, depending on the severity of the infection and whether or not treatment is received.

People can sometimes be contagious even before they show symptoms, making it hard to prevent gastro. That’s why maintaining good hygiene, like regular hand washing, is essential in households, schools, and workplaces, especially when someone is diagnosed with gastroenteritis. Remember, it’s always better to err on the side of caution and assume that the risk of contagion lasts for at least a few days after the symptoms have cleared.

How Long Does it Take to Get Gastro from Someone?

The time it takes to develop gastro symptoms after exposure to the virus or bacteria that causes it varies depending on the specific infectious agent involved. This period, known as the incubation period, can range from just a few hours to several days. Here are some common examples:


One of the most common causes of viral gastro, it typically has a short incubation period ranging from 12 to 48 hours.


Another common viral cause, especially in children, has an incubation period of about 1 to 3 days.

Bacterial Gastroenteritis

For bacteria like Salmonella, E. coli, and Campylobacter, the incubation period can vary widely but typically ranges from 1 to 3 days.

The speed at which gastro symptoms appear can also be influenced by the amount of the infectious agent you’re exposed to and your immune system’s response. Individuals can be contagious even before they start showing symptoms, which is why gastro can spread so easily and quickly, especially in group settings like schools and families. 

A teenage child sick in bed - isolated with gastro symptoms.

What Are the Stages of Gastro in Adults?

Gastro typically progresses through several stages in adults, each characterised by different symptoms. Understanding these stages can help in managing the condition more effectively. Here’s a general outline of the stages:

Incubation Period

This is the initial phase after the virus or bacteria enters the body, but before symptoms appear. The duration varies depending on the causative agent but can range from a few hours to several days.

Onset of Symptoms

The first signs of gastro usually include nausea, abdominal cramps, and a general feeling of malaise. This quickly progresses to the more pronounced gastro symptoms, such as diarrhoea and vomiting. These symptoms are the body’s way of trying to rid itself of the infectious agent.

Peak Symptoms

During this stage, symptoms become more severe – things like diarrhoea, vomiting, fever, and severe abdominal pain. Dehydration is a significant concern at this point, especially if fluid intake is not maintained. Symptoms of dehydration can include dry mouth, dizziness, and reduced urine output.

Recovery Phase

Gradually, the frequency of diarrhoea and vomiting decreases. Appetite starts to return, and energy levels begin to improve. It’s important to stay hydrated by drinking fluids. To prevent dehydration, consider drinking sports drinks with electrolytes and slowly reintroducing more substantial foods as the body recovers.


Even after gastro symptoms have subsided, the body may still be recovering, especially in severe cases. Some people with severe gastroenteritis experience temporary lactose intolerance or a sensitive stomach for a few weeks post-infection. The virus or bacteria may still be present in the stool after recovery, so maintaining good hygiene practices is essential to prevent spreading the infection to others.

Each person’s experience with gastro can vary, and not everyone will go through these stages the same way. If symptoms are severe or prolonged, it’s important to seek medical advice.

How Long Can Gastro Last?

The duration of gastro varies depending on the cause and individual health profile. Typically, gastro caused by a virus lasts about 1 to 3 days, but bacterial infections might last longer, from a few days up to a week. In some cases, particularly in vulnerable individuals like children and older people, symptoms may persist longer and require medical attention.

A healthy family on the couch.

How to Avoid Gastro When Your Family Has It

Avoiding gastro when your family has it requires a proactive approach, focusing on minimising the risk of transmission. Here are some key steps for your ‘gastro stop’ plan:

  • Practise Rigorous Hygiene: Wash your hands frequently with soap and water, especially after interacting with the sick person, using the bathroom, and before eating or preparing food. Hand sanitisers can be used when soap and water aren’t available.
  • Use Separate Personal Items: Avoid sharing personal items like towels, bedding, utensils, and dishes with the infected person. If possible, have the sick family member use a separate bathroom.
  • Clean and Disinfect Regularly: Focus on cleaning areas that are frequently touched, such as door handles, bathroom fixtures, and kitchen surfaces. Use a disinfectant that’s effective against viruses and bacteria.
  • Handle Food Safely: Be extra cautious with food preparation. The person who is ill should not prepare food for others. Also, make sure all food is cooked and stored properly.
  • Isolate the Ill Person: If possible, have the person with gastro stay in one room, limiting their interaction with other family members.
  • Stay Hydrated and Eat Healthily: Drink plenty of water and maintain a healthy diet to support your immune system.
  • Monitor for Symptoms: Be alert to any signs of gastro in yourself, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, or stomach cramps, and consult a healthcare professional if you start showing symptoms.


Remember, while you can’t always prevent gastro, these measures can significantly reduce your risk of catching it when someone in your family is ill.

Need a medical certificate for gastro or carer’s leave? Save the trip to the doctor’s clinic and trust medical certificates online.

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