Butler VA Health Care System
Viral gastroenteritis is an inflammation of the stomach, small and large intestines. Infections can be caused by numerous viruses that result in vomiting or diarrhea. This is usually called the "Stomach flu" even through this in not caused by the influenza virus.
Symptoms of viral gastroenteritis are watery diarrhea and vomiting along with headache, fever, and abdominal cramps. These symptoms start 1 to 2 days after the person has been infected by the virus and can last up to 10 days.
Gastroenteritis is a serious illness, but if a person is able to stay hydrated they are not as high risk as infants, young children and people who are not able to care for themselves. People at higher risk from dehydration may need to be hospitalized for treatment to prevent or correct dehydration.
Viral gastroenteritis is contagious and can be spread by close contact with people who are infected. You can also become infected my eating or drinking food and beverages that are contaminated. Food and beverages can become contaminated by food preparers or handlers who have viral gastroenteritis that do not wash their hands regularly. Shellfish can also become contaminated by sewage and people who eat raw or undercooked shellfish are also at a high risk for infection. Drinking water can also become contaminated by sewage and be a source to spread the viruses.
Viral gastroenteritis affects people all around the world. Each virus has its own season for activity. In the United States rotavirus and astrovirus infections occur during the colder months of the year between October and April. Adenovirus infections occur throughout the year and norovirus infections occur year around but do tend to increase in the colder months. Norovirus outbreaks can occur in institutional settings; schools, child care centers, cruise ships, etc.
Anyone can be infected with viral gastroenteritis. Diagnosis of the virus is done by a physician on the basis of symptoms and medical examination. Rotavirus can be diagnosed in laboratory testing of a specimen. Other testing of viruses that cause gastroenteritis are not routinely used.
The most important treatment of viral gastroenteritis is to prevent severe loss of fluids and this treatment should begin at home. With infants and young children the CDC recommends keeping a supply of oral rehydration solution (ORS). The following website http://rehydrate.org/solutions/homemade.htm gives information on how to make the solutions and what are other sources for oral rehydration can be used. ORS can be purchased at pharmacies without a prescription. Medications, antibiotics, and other treatments should be avoided unless recommended by a physician.