Share this page

Health Library

Viral Gastroenteritis(Stomach Flu; Stomach Bug)

Pronounced: gas-tro-EN-ter-ite-is

Definition

Viral gastroenteritis is an infection of the intestines caused by a virus.

The Intestines


Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Causes

Viral gastroenteritis is caused by one of several viruses that assault the intestines. The viruses are usually spread through contact with someone who is infected or with something an infected person touched. Viral gastroenteritis also can spread through food or water that is contaminated.

Risk Factors

Viral gastroenteritis is more common in children and child care centers and in older adults in nursing homes.

Risk factors for viral gastroenteritis include group settings such as:

  • Cruise ships
  • College dormitories
  • Campgrounds
Symptoms

The symptoms of viral gastroenteritis usually begin between 1 to 2 days after you’re exposed to the virus. The illness usually lasts 1 to 2 days, but it can rarely last for up to 10 days.

Symptoms may include:

  • Watery diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Fever
  • Muscle aches
  • Headache

Vomiting and diarrhea can lead to dehydration (losing more water than you take in), especially in children.

Diagnosis

You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Your doctor may also order a stool culture. This test looks for bacteria in a stool sample, which would indicate a different type of illness.

Treatment

There is no specific medical treatment for viral gastroenteritis. Antibiotics are not helpful for infections caused by a virus. However, there are a number of things you can do to be more comfortable and avoid dehydration.

  • Fluids—It is important to drink fluids to replace those you’ve lost when sick. Take small sips of water, suck on ice chips, or drink clear soda or noncaffeinated sports drinks. Give your child an oral rehydration solution (such as Pedialyte) instead of water.
  • Diet—Gradually begin to eat bland foods, such as toast, crackers, bananas, rice, chicken, and potatoes. Avoid dairy products, caffeine, fatty foods, and spicy foods until you’re feeling better. If you’re breast-feeding an infant who is sick, continue to breast-feed. If your baby is bottle-fed, give him or her oral rehydration solution or formula.
  • Rest—Make sure you get enough rest while you’re sick and when you’re recovering. If your child is sick, make sure he or she gets plenty of rest.

Call your doctor if you:

  • Can’t keep fluids down for 24 hours
  • Vomit blood
  • Have bloody diarrhea
  • Have a fever above 101 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Vomit for more than 2 days
  • Have signs of dehydration:
    • Lightheadedness
    • Excessive thirst
    • Dry mouth
    • Dark urine
    • Little or no urine

Call your doctor if your child:

  • Is under 6 months of age
  • Has a fever of 102 degrees Fahrenheit (38.8 degrees Celsuis) or higher
  • Seems tired or irritable
  • Has bloody diarrhea
  • Has stomach pain
  • Has signs of dehydration:
    • Unusual drowsiness
    • Dry lips and mouth
    • No tears when crying
    • Dark urine
    • Not urinating very much (for example, no wet diaper in 3 hours)
    • Feeling thirsty but vomiting after drinking fluids
Prevention

You can take several steps to prevent viral gastroenteritis:

  • If possible, avoid contact with people who have the condition.
  • Always wash your hands thoroughly. Use warm water and soap, rub vigorously, and rinse well.
  • Help your children wash their hands thoroughly.
  • Use bleach to disinfect contaminated surfaces in your home (toilet, sink faucet in bathroom).
  • Don’t share personal items, such as toothbrush, towels, and drinking glasses.
  • Take special care when traveling to countries that are more likely to have contaminated food and water. Only drink bottled water, avoid ice cubes, and don’t eat raw foods, including vegetables.

RESOURCES:

Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
http://www.familydoctor.org

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
http://www.cdc.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Alberta Health
http://www.health.gov.ab.ca

HealthLink BC
http://www.bchealthguide.org

References:

Norovirus. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/norovirus/. Accessed December 18, 2014.

Norovirus infection. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated September 22, 2014. Accessed December 18, 2014.



Last reviewed December 2014 by Peter Lucas, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

Baptist Flame

Baptist Nutrition and Bariatric Center

Find A Doctor

Services

Locations

Baptist Medical Clinic

Patients & Visitors

Learn

Contact Us

Physician Tools

Careers at Baptist

Employee Links

Online Services

At Baptist Health Systems

At Baptist Medical Center

close ×