Viral Gastroenteritis

Viral Gastroenteritis

Viral Gastroenteritis, also known as stomach flu,  is an infection of the intestines affects people all over the world. Symptoms of viral gastroenteritis include abdominal cramps, watery diarrhea, nausea or vomiting and fever sometimes. Also known viral gastroenteritis.

The most common way of contracting viral gastroenteritis is by coming in contact with an infected person or ingesting contaminated food or water. Usually, the disease is easy to recover from without complications.

There is no effective treatment for viral gastroenteritis, so prevention is the key. Prevention includes frequent hand-washing and avoiding contaminated food and water, which is your best defence against the virus.

What are the symptoms of viral gastroenteritis?

Although it is commonly called stomach flu, it is very different from influenza. The flu or influenza affects your respiratory system – your nose, lungs, and throat. On the other hand, viral gastroenteritis attacks your intestines and stomach. This causes symptoms such as:

  • Watery, usually non-bloody diarrhea.
  • Abdominal pain and cramps.
  • Nausea, vomiting, or both.
  • Occasional muscle aches.
  • Headaches.
  • Fever and chills.
  • Loss of appetite.

In viral gastroenteritis, the diarrhea is non-bloody. If blood occurs in your diarrhea, it indicates a probably a bacterial infection like dysentery.

Depending on the cause of your viral gastroenteritis, the symptoms may appear within one to three days and can vary between being mild and severe. Usually, these symptoms resolve in a day or two. However, in some cases, these symptoms can affect a patient for up to 10 days.

Due to similar symptoms, viral gastroenteritis might easily be confused with different infections caused by bacteria, such as Clostridium, Salmonella, and Shigella, or a parasitic infection caused by Giardia.

Some disorders could cause symptoms similar to stomach flu, such as:

  • Intolerance disorders: Common examples of food intolerance include fructose, lactose, and artificial sweetener intolerance.
  • Digestive disorders: These disorders include inflammatory bowel diseases like irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or celiac disease.
  • Certain drugs: Antibiotics or antacids with magnesium can cause similar symptoms.

What are the causes of viral gastroenteritis?

You will most likely develop viral gastroenteritis if you consume contaminated food or water or share utensils, towels, or food with someone infected.

Several types of viruses can cause viral gastroenteritis, such as

  • Norovirus: Both children and adults are affected by norovirus, the most common cause of food-borne illness worldwide. It is highly transmissible and can sweep through communities and families. It is especially likely to spread in close quarters among people in confined spaces.
  • Rotavirus: This virus is the most common cause of viral gastroenteritis worldwide, among infants who get infected when they put their fingers or other objects that are contaminated by the virus in their mouths. It is a  severe infection in infants and young children. Adults can have the rotavirus infection yet may not show any symptoms, but they can spread the infection to children.
  • Adenovirus: Adenovirus can affect people of all ages. It is usually transmitted through the air via sneezing or coughing. However, it can also spread through contact with the infected, such as holding hands. Adenovirus causes many illnesses, and gastroenteritis is one of them. Children, typically between 6 months and 2 years of age, are most likely to contract the adenovirus infection.

Some varieties of shellfish, especially raw or undercooked oysters, can also make you sick.  While contaminated drinking water is a cause of viral diarrhea, the virus is passed through the fecal-oral route in many cases. That is, someone infected with the virus handles the food you eat without washing his or her hands after using the toilet.

Who is at risk of getting stomach flu?

Viral gastroenteritis affects people of all ages, races, and sex across the world.

The people predisposed to viral gastroenteritis may include:

  • Young children: Children in daycare or elementary schools are at a higher risk of developing viral gastroenteritis as it takes time for the immune system to mature.
  • Older adults: As a person ages, the immune system weakens. People living in nursing homes are especially susceptible to viral gastroenteritis because they have depleted immune systems and live with people in confined spaces who can pass on the germs.
  • Anyone with a weakened immune system: People suffering from conditions that weaken their immune systems, such as HIV/AIDS, are more susceptible to viral gastroenteritis.

Wherever groups of people live in close quarters and confined spaces is an opportunity for the infection to spread.

When should you see your doctor?

If you are an adult, consult a doctor if:

  • You are unable to keep liquids down for 24 hours.
  • You have been vomiting for 2 days.
  • You are vomiting blood.
  • You notice blood in your bowel movements
  • You have a fever above 40 C (104 F)
  • You notice signs of dehydration, such as dry lips, dizziness.

Contact your baby’s doctor if they show the following symptoms:

  • Your baby is in a lot of pain or discomfort.
  • Your baby has a fever of 102 F (38.9 C) or higher.
  • Your baby seems lethargic or irritable.
  • Your baby has bloody diarrhea.
  • Your baby has not had a wet diaper in 6 hours
  • Your baby has a sunken spot (fontanelle) in the skull.
  • Your baby has a dry mouth or cries without tears.


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What are the treatment options for viral gastroenteritis?

The main focus of treatment is directed at preventing dehydration by drinking plenty of fluids. In severe cases, hospitalization and intravenous fluid injections are necessary.

To combat dehydration, over-the-counter Oral Rehydration Solution (ORS) can be extremely helpful in mild cases. They will be easy on the stomach and contain a fixed formula essential to replenish the lost fluids and electrolytes.

There is often no specific medical treatment for viral gastroenteritis. Antibiotics are not effective against viruses, and their overuse can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria.

What are the preventive measures to avoid stomach flu?

The best way to prevent viral gastroenteritis is to follow these precautions:

  • Washing hands: Wash your hands thoroughly after using the toilet and before handling food.
  • Separating personal items: Use separate personal items around the house.
  • Avoiding contact with patients: Avoid close contact with an infected person, if possible.
  • Disinfecting surfaces: Disinfect hard surfaces of the house, such as doorknobs, faucets, etc., if someone in your house has viral gastroenteritis.
  • Getting your child vaccinated: A vaccine against gastroenteritis caused by rotavirus is given in some countries, including India. The vaccine is effective in preventing severe symptoms of this illness.

Precautions to be taken while travelling:

  • Drink water only from safe sources
  • Avoid ice cubes
  • Avoid raw food.
  • Avoid undercooked meat or fish.

Viral gastroenteritis is a fairly common complication that affects almost everyone around the world. It is rarely fatal. Hence, it is not a reason to panic or worry. Look out for signs and symptoms, keep yourself and your child hydrated, and follow the necessary precautions. If the symptoms does not subside, contact your doctor at the earliest.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)  

Q1. What are the home remedies for stomach flu?

Try applying a low-temperature heating pad on your abdomen or stomach to help with the cramps. Also, avoid eating oily, spicy foods. Try to eat foods that soothe an upset stomach, such as rice, ginger, mint, or yogurt.

Q2. Is the flu shot effective for stomach flu? Influenza or the flu is an altogether different disease from stomach flu. The flu affects your respiratory system, while viral gastroenteritis affects your stomach and intestines. Hence, your flu shot will not be effective against stomach flu.