ALERTS & COVID-19 UPDATES Learn more: COVID-19 Resources; COVID-19 Testing; Vaccine Info; Visitor Policy; Support Us

Lahey Health is now part of Beth Israel Lahey Health

by Shannon DW
(Stomach Flu; Stomach Bug)

Definition

Viral gastroenteritis is an infection of the intestines and stomach.

The Intestines
IMAGE
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Causes

It is caused by one of many viruses. The virus can spread easily through fluids of the mouth and nose. It is passed to surfaces and objects where it can live for hours. People touch the surface with the virus then touch their mouth, nose, or eyes. This is the easiest way for the virus to spread. The virus may also be spread through food or water that has the virus. Some common viruses include:

Risk Factors

Children and older adults are more likely to get this infection. It can spread easily in:

  • Child care centers
  • Nursing homes
  • Cruise ships
  • College dormitories
  • Campgrounds

Symptoms

The symptoms begin 1 to 2 days after you have contact with the virus. They usually last 1 to 2 days.

Symptoms may include:

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

Diagnosis

You will be asked about your symptoms and past health. A physical exam may be done. The doctor will suspect a virus based in symptoms.

The stool may need to be tested if the illness is severe or not passing. It will help to find the exact cause of the infection.

Treatment

The infection will pass on its own. Antibiotics are not helpful against a virus. Most will only need home care and rest. It is also important to prevent dehydration. IV fluids may be needed with severe nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting.

Prevention

The best way to prevent an illness is to avoid the virus. Steps that may help include:

  • Avoid contact with people who are sick when possible.
  • Wash your hands often and thoroughly. Use warm water and soap.
  • Encourage children to wash their hands often.
  • Use bleach to disinfect common surfaces in the home. This includes toilet and sink in bathroom.
  • Avoid sharing personal items such as toothbrushes, towels, and drinking glasses.
  • Take safety steps in countries that are more likely to have contaminated food and water. Only drink sealed bottled water. Avoid ice cubes and brushing teeth with tap water. Avoid eating raw foods, including vegetables.

RESOURCES

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

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

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Alberta Health  http://www.health.alberta.ca 

HealthLink BC  https://www.healthlinkbc.ca 

References

Norovirus. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/norovirus. Accessed September 26, 2020.

Norovirus infection. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:  http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114466/Norovirus-infection  . Accessed September 26, 2020.

Rotavirus gastroenteritis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:  https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114180/Rotavirus-gastroenteritis  . Accessed September 26, 2020.

Viral gastroenteritis. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/viral-gastroenteritis. Accessed September 26, 2020.

Revision Information