What is viral gastroenteritis?
Viral gastroenteritis, also known as stomach flu, is an inflammation of the stomach and intestines caused by one of any number of viruses. Most people make a full recovery in two or three days, with no lasting side effects.
Viral gastroenteritis is the leading cause of severe diarrhea in adults and children. Children under the age of five and the elderly are at particular risk of severe diarrhea.
Many different viruses can cause the illness, each with its own peak season. The most common viruses include:
- This virus commonly affects infants and young children, who then spread the infection to other children and adults. It is usually spread orally, meaning the virus enters a person’s body through their mouth. Symptoms typically appear within two days of infection and include vomiting, loss of appetite, and watery diarrhea.
- This type of virus is highly contagious and can affect anyone at any age. It is spread through contaminated food, water, and surfaces, or by infected people. This type of virus is common in crowded spaces, such as nursing homes, daycares, and schools. Symptoms include nausea, diarrhea, fever, and body aches.
How common is viral gastroenteritis?
Viral gastroenteritis is extremely common. It can affect anyone throughout the world. This highly contagious illness spreads through close contact with people who are infected, or through contaminated food or water. It can easily spread in close quarters, such as childcare facilities, schools, nursing homes, and cruise ships. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of viral gastroenteritis?
Symptoms of viral gastroenteritis usually begin one or two days after infection and include:
- Watery diarrhea
- Nausea and vomiting
- Headache, muscle aches, joint aches
- Fever, chills
- Sweating, clammy skin
- Abdominal cramps and pain
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
Symptoms can last anywhere from one to 10 days.
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes viral gastroenteritis?
Viral gastroenteritis is caused by a number of different viruses.
It is easy for this virus to spread among people in group situations, such as in schools, dormitories, hospitals, and cruise ships. Some of the ways the virus is transmitted include:
- Improper hand washing, especially by food handlers
- Water contaminated by sewage
- Consuming raw or undercooked shellfish from contaminated waters
What increases my risk for viral gastroenteritis?
People at higher risk are:
- Children under age five
- Older adults, especially if they live in nursing homes
- Children and adults with weakened immune systems
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is viral gastroenteritis diagnosed?
Most of the time, a physical exam is the basis for diagnosis, especially if the virus is spreading through your community. Your doctor may also order a stool sample to test for the type of virus or to find out if your illness is due to a parasitic or bacterial infection.
How is viral gastroenteritis treated?
The main focus of treatment is to prevent dehydration by drinking plenty of fluids. In severe cases, hospitalization and intravenous fluids are necessary.
Over-the-counter oral rehydration solutions (OHS), such as Pedialyte, are kept in the homes of families with young children (CDC). OHS are specially made to be easy on a child’s stomach, and they contain a balanced mixture of water and salts to replenish essential fluids and electrolytes. These solutions are available at local pharmacies and don’t require a prescription. However, instructions should be followed carefully.
Antibiotics have no effect on viruses. Check with your physician before taking any over-the-counter medications.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage viral gastroenteritis?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with viral gastroenteritis:
- Drink extra fluids with and between meals. If you have difficulty drinking, try very small amounts of water or suck on ice chips.
- Avoid fruit juices, as these do not replace minerals and can actually increase diarrhea.
- Children and adults can use sports drinks to replenish electrolytes. Younger children and infants should use products formulated for children, like oral rehydration solutions.
- Eat food in small amounts and let your stomach recover.
- Get lots of rest. You may feel tired or weak.
- Check with your doctor before taking medications or giving them to children. Never give aspirin to children or teenagers with a viral illness. This can cause Reye’s syndrome, a potentially life-threatening condition.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Viral gastroenteritis. https://www.healthline.com/health/viral-gastroenteritis#Treatment6. Accessed October 18, 2017
Viral gastroenteritis. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/viral-gastroenteritis/basics/definition/con-20019350. Accessed October 18, 2017
Review Date: October 19, 2017 | Last Modified: October 19, 2017