Viral Gastroenteritis

What is Viral Gastroenteritis?

Viral gastroenteritis, which is also referred to as the stomach flu, will occur when a virus causes inflammation and infection in the intestines or stomach.

There are several different viruses that can cause viral gastroenteritis, and they are found all over the world. The most common, however, are norovirus and rotavirus.

The stomach flu is highly contagious, and it can be acquired through the consumption of contaminated water or food, as well as contact with infected individuals. It can even be spread easily in close quarters, which is why it is common on cruise ships and in schools, childcare centers, and nursing homes.

What are the Symptoms of Viral Gastroenteritis?

Individuals who contract viral gastroenteritis may suffer from symptoms for as little as one day, or for as long as 10 days.

Most common symptoms associated include:

  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea that is watery
  • Chills and fever
  • Clammy skin and sweating
  • Cramps and pain in the abdominal region
  • Weight loss
  • Lack of appetite
  • Muscle and joint aches
  • Headaches

Viral Gastroenteritis Causes

Viral gastroenteritis is caused when an individual contracts the viral infection which causes the illness. The virus is highly infectious and spreads via the vomit or feces of an infected individual.

There are four types of virus which could be responsible for the illness:

  • Rotavirus
  • Caliciviruses (such as norovirus)
  • Adenovirus
  • Astrovirus

There are three key ways that the virus can spread:

  • Through person-to-person contact, for example, an infected individual might shake hands with someone and pass the virus on through their hands.
  • Through contaminated objects, for example, by sharing towels which may have been contaminated when in the bathroom where someone may have vomited.
  • Through infected food or drink which could have been prepared by an infected individual who had the virus on their hands.

It may also be possible for the virus to spread via aerosolized particles when an infected individual vomits.

People usually pass on the virus to others while they are still experiencing symptoms, but in some cases, it can be passed on up to 48 hours after recovery, even if no more symptoms are present.

How is Viral Gastroenteritis Treated?

Treatment for viral gastroenteritis will include replacing fluids and electrolytes in order to prevent dehydration. Adults and older children can consume sports beverages, while younger children and infants can drink rehydration products like Pedialyte. Only small amounts of liquid should be consumed every 30-60 minutes.

Food should be eaten in small amounts, and you should also get plenty of rest. Avoid drinking soda or fruit juice, which could worsen diarrhea.

For severe cases of stomach flu, hospitalization and the administration of IV fluids might be necessary.

Viral Gastroenteritis Prevention

Good hygiene practices are vital to prevent the spread of viral gastroenteritis. First of all, thoroughly washing the hands after vomiting or passing stools is vital for those who have the infection or have been free of symptoms for less than 48 hours. Hands should be washed for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water.

Parents with babies or children with the infection should also thoroughly wash their hands after changing nappies or helping their children use the bathroom. It is also recommended to always wash hands before handling food or eating. Those who have the illness or have recovered from it within the past 48 hours should avoid preparing food for others, or should take extra care in washing their hands before preparing it.

There are vaccinations available for children, known as rotavirus vaccines, which can immunize against viral gastroenteritis. These must be administered to infants and require multiple doses.

Last Reviewed:
October 11, 2016
Last Updated:
September 09, 2017