Page header image

Gastrointestinal Amebiasis (Food Poisoning)



  • Gastrointestinal amebiasis is an infection caused by a parasite that usually enters the body through contaminated food.
  • Dehydration caused by diarrhea and vomiting can be dangerous, especially for children. Your child needs to drink enough liquid to replace the fluids and minerals lost.
  • Treatment may include medicine or IV fluids until your child’s symptoms get better.


What is gastrointestinal amebiasis?

Gastrointestinal amebiasis is an infection caused by a parasite called Entamoeba histolytica. This parasite can cause short-term or long-term diarrhea and swelling (inflammation) in the human intestine (colon). Because the parasite usually enters the body through food, the infection is also called food poisoning. The infection is more common in unclean or crowded areas. This condition occurs worldwide. It is rare in the US.

What is the cause?

The parasite lives in the human intestine when someone is infected. Bowel movements can spread the parasite to soil, water, or food. Vegetables or fruit can be contaminated by contact with this soil or water. Contaminated food usually looks and smells normal.

Your child may get infected if your child puts anything in his or her mouth that contains the parasite. For example:

  • Your child eats contaminated food.
  • Your child eats food that has been handled by someone who is infected.
  • Your child swallows water from a well, lake, stream, or city water that has not been treated to kill germs.
  • Your child has contact with bowel movements from an infected person by touching towels or bathroom fixtures they have used or through sexual contact.

Rarely, the parasite can go from the intestine into your child’s bloodstream and infect other organs.

What are the symptoms?

The parasite can live in the intestines for a few days or even months without causing symptoms. When it causes symptoms, they may include:

  • Diarrhea or bowel movements streaked with blood or mucus
  • Cramps or tenderness in your child’s belly
  • Fever
  • Nausea or vomiting

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms, activities, medical history, and travel history, and examine your child.

Your child may have tests such as:

  • Tests of a sample of your child’s bowel movements
  • Blood tests
  • Sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy, which uses a thin, flexible tube and tiny camera put into your child’s rectum and up into the colon to look for disease

How is it treated?

Your child’s healthcare provider may prescribe medicine that will kill the parasite.

If your child’s symptoms are severe, your child may need fluids through an IV until the diarrhea gets better. This treatment may be needed to keep your child from losing too much fluid and getting dehydrated.

The diarrhea usually lasts 3 to 14 days. Sometimes it lasts as long as 4 weeks.

How can I take care of my child?

Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions. Make sure that your child takes all medicines exactly as prescribed. If your child stops taking the medicine too soon, the infection may come back. If your child has side effects from the medicine, talk to your provider.

Here are some things you can do to help your child feel better:

  • Rest your child’s stomach and bowel but make sure that your child keeps getting liquids. You can try giving your child water, ice chips, frozen ice pops, or half-strength lemon-lime soft drinks (half water, half soft drink). Avoid liquids that are acidic such as orange juice, or caffeinated such as coffee.
  • If your child has severe diarrhea, your child’s body can lose too much fluid and get dehydrated. Dehydration can be dangerous, especially for children. Your child may also be losing minerals that the body needs to keep working normally. Your healthcare provider may recommend an oral rehydration solution (ORS), which is a drink that replaces fluids and minerals. You can buy these products at drug and grocery stores.
  • Your child may want to eat soft, plain foods. Good choices are soda crackers, toast, plain noodles, rice, cooked cereal, applesauce, and bananas. It’s best for your child to eat slowly and avoid foods that are hard to digest or may irritate the stomach including foods with acid such as tomatoes or oranges, spicy or fatty food, meats, and raw vegetables. Your child may be able to go back to a normal diet in a few days.
  • If your child has cramps or stomach pain, it may help to put a hot water bottle or heating pad on your child’s stomach. Cover the hot water bottle with a towel or set the heating pad on low so it doesn’t burn your child’s skin.

Don’t give your child aspirin, ibuprofen, or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) without checking first with your healthcare provider. NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin, may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. Check with your healthcare provider before you give any medicine that contains aspirin or salicylates to a child or teen. This includes medicines like baby aspirin, some cold medicines, and Pepto-Bismol. Children and teens who take aspirin are at risk for a serious illness called Reye’s syndrome.

Ask your healthcare provider:

  • How and when you will get your child’s test results
  • How long it will take to recover
  • If there are activities your child should avoid, and when your child can return to normal activities
  • How to take care of your child at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if your child has them

Make sure you know when your child should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.

How can I help prevent gastrointestinal amebiasis?

These steps can help prevent food poisoning:

  • Wash your hands and clean any dishes or utensils before you prepare, cook, serve, or eat food. Keep kitchen counters and other food preparation surfaces clean. Replace used dishcloths and kitchen towels with clean ones often.
  • Cover any sore or cut on your hands before preparing food. Use rubber gloves or cover the sore with a clean bandage.
  • Rinse fresh vegetables and fruits before you cook them or before your child eats them.
  • Thaw frozen meats in the refrigerator or a microwave. Do not let meat stand at room temperature.
  • Cook food thoroughly, especially meat, poultry, and leftovers. Pork should be heated to an internal temperature of at least 160°F (71°C). For whole chickens and turkeys a temperature of 180°F (82°C) is recommended for thigh meat and 170°F (77°C) for breast meat.
  • Keep juices from raw meat, poultry, and seafood away from other foods.
  • If you take care of young children, wash your hands often and dispose of diapers carefully so that bacteria cannot spread to other surfaces or people.
  • Refrigerate any food your child will not be eating right away.
  • Remind or help your child to wash his or her hands before eating, after going to the bathroom, or after touching animals.
  • When your child travels to places where contamination is more likely, your child should:
    • Eat only hot, freshly cooked food.
    • Avoid eating raw vegetables or unpeeled fruit, or eating from street vendors.
    • Drink only bottled (with intact seal) water and liquids.
    • Avoid tap water and ice, or drink water only after it has been boiled.
Developed by Change Healthcare.
Pediatric Advisor 2022.1 published by Change Healthcare.
Last modified: 2021-09-06
Last reviewed: 2019-02-05
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2022 Change Healthcare LLC and/or one of its subsidiaries
Page footer image