Viral gastroenteritis: Symptoms, Prevention

Overview

Viral gastroenteritis is an infection of your intestine, characterized by watery diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea or vomiting and sometimes fever. As its name suggests, viruses cause viral gastroenteritis. You may most often get infected with viruses through contact with infected people or by having contaminated food or water.

Viral gastroenteritis is an acute condition. That means it occurs suddenly and lasts a short time. In most cases, the condition lasts less than a week. Although a large portion of people with viral gastroenteritis can recover without treatment, people whose immune systems are compromised, such as infants and the old, may be significantly affected.

Viral gastroenteritis is a very common condition. As the most common cause of viral gastroenteritis, Norovirus leads to 19 to 21 million cases in the United States each year.

Symptoms

Viral gastroenteritis is commonly called stomach flu. However, it is different from real flu that affects only the respiratory system. Viral gastroenteritis attacks your intestine and may bring about the following symptoms:

  • Watery diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramps and pain
  • Nausea, vomiting or both
  • Occasional muscle aches or headache
  • Low-grade fever

Causes

Many viruses can result in viral gastroenteritis, including:

  • Noroviruses (The most common cause of viral gastroenteritis)

Symptoms typically occur 12 to 48 hours after you are infected and last 1 to 3 days.

  • Rotavirus (The most common cause of viral gastroenteritis in children)

Symptoms typically occur about 2 days after you are infected and last 3 to 8 days.

  • Adenovirus

Symptoms typically occur 3 to 10 days after you are infected and last 1 to 2 weeks.

  • Astrovirus

Symptoms typically occur 4 to 5 days after you are infected and last 1 to 4 days.

Noroviruses affect people at any age, while Rotavirus, Adenovirus and Astrovirus often infect young children.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis of viral gastroenteritis is mainly based on your symptoms. Besides, your doctor may also diagnose it with a medical history, a physical exam and stool tests.

Treatment

No effective treatment is available for viral gastroenteritis. Using antibiotics will not be helpful either. Furthermore, overuse of them can even lead to antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. But there are some options to prevent possible dehydration. If the cases are mild, you can use over-the-counter oral rehydration solutions (OHS), such as Pedialyte. If the cases are severe, hospitalization and intravenous fluids will be necessary.

Although there are no effective treatments, you can take some self-care measures to feel more comfortable and prevent dehydration. They include:

  • Let your stomach settle
  • Try sucking on ice chips or taking small sips of water
  • Ease back into eating
  • Avoid certain foods and substances such as dairy products, caffeine, alcohol until you feel better
  • Get lots of rest
  • Be cautious with medications

If your child gets infected, you can do the following things:

  • Help your child rehydrate
  • Get your child back to a normal diet slowly
  • Avoid certain foods
  • Make sure your child gets lots of rest
  • Avoid giving your child over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medications

Prevention

Since there are no treatments that can greatly improve your condition, prevention is of vital importance. Follow these tips to protect against infections:

  • Get your child vaccinated
  • Wash hands thoroughly
  • Use separate personal items around your home
  • Avoid contacts with people who have the virus
  • Disinfect hard surfaces
  • Check out your child care center

If you are traveling in other countries, the following suggestions may help you reduce the risk of getting infections from contaminated food or water:

  • Drink only well-sealed bottled or carbonated water
  • Avoid ice cubes, because they may be made from contaminated water
  • Use bottled water to brush your teeth
  • Avoid raw food — including peeled fruits, raw vegetables and salads — that has been touched by human hands
  • Avoid undercooked meat and fish

Keywords: viral gastroenteritis; stomach flu.

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How Long Do Stomach Flu Symptoms Last?

* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.