What is viral gastroenteritis?
Viral gastroenteritis is an inflammation, swelling, and irritation of the inside lining of your gastrointestinal tract. A virus causes this illness. It can infect your stomach, small intestine, and large intestine.
Viral gastroenteritis is very common. In most cases, it lasts only a few days and doesn¡¯t require treatment. The biggest danger is dehydration from loss of fluid due to diarrhea and vomiting.
What causes viral gastroenteritis?
Several viruses can cause gastroenteritis. Viruses can be found in the vomit and the diarrhea of infected people. It can live for a long time outside the body. People who are infected can spread the virus to objects they touch, especially if they don¡¯t wash their hands after using the bathroom. Food workers with the infection can spread it to others through food and beverages. Sewage that gets into the water supply can also spread the illness. Although viral gastroenteritis is sometimes called "stomach flu," the seasonal influenza (flu) virus does not cause it.
Some of the common viruses that cause gastroenteritis include:
Rotavirus. This virus most commonly infects infants age 3 to 15 months. The illness lasts for 3 to 7 days and is most common in fall and winter.
¡°Each year, rotavirus causes approximately 111 million episodes of gastroenteritis requiring only home care, 25 million clinic visits, 2 million hospitalizations, and 352,000¨C592,000 deaths (median, 440,000 deaths) in children <5 years of age. By age 5, nearly every child will have an episode of rotavirus gastroenteritis, 1 in 5 will visit a clinic, 1 in 60 will be hospitalized, and approximately 1 in 293 will die. Children in the poorest countries account for 82% of rotavirus deaths. The tremendous incidence of rotavirus disease underscores the urgent need for interventions, such as vaccines, to prevent childhood deaths in developing nations.¡±
Norovirus. This is the most common cause of adult infections and the virus that¡¯s usually responsible for outbreaks on cruise ships. Symptoms last from 1 to 3 days and can occur any time of the year.
Adenovirus. This virus occurs year-round and affects children under age 2. Symptoms last from 5 to 12 days.
Many other viruses can also cause viral gastroenteritis.
What are the symptoms of viral gastroenteritis?
Symptoms of viral gastroenteritis usually begin about 1 to 2 days after the virus gets into the body.
Common symptoms include:
Other possible symptoms are:
Signs of dehydration:
Decreased urine output
Signs of dehydration in young children:
Dry diapers (from a lack of urination)
Lack of tears
Sunken fontanel (the soft spot on the top of an infant¡¯s head)
How is viral gastroenteritis diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will most likely diagnose your condition based on your history and symptoms. You will rarely need testing. If your symptoms persist, your healthcare provider may ask for a stool sample to look for viruses, bacteria, and parasites.
Can viral gastroenteritis be prevented?
Vaccines are available to protect children from rotavirus. Healthcare providers give shots to babies before age 6 months. You and your children can help prevent viral gastroenteritis by taking these steps:
Wash hands for 20 seconds with soap and water after going to the bathroom, after changing a diaper, and before touching any food.
Use alcohol-based sanitizers.
If someone in the house has gastroenteritis, wash all surfaces that might be contaminated with a bleach-based cleaner.
Avoid any food or water with warnings of contamination.
How is viral gastroenteritis treated?
Specific treatment is usually not needed. In most cases, you simply need to drink plenty of fluids and rest at home until the virus leaves your system. In rare cases, you may need treatment for severe dehydration, with IV (intravenous) fluids.
Helpful home care tips include:
Drink plenty of light fluids like water, ice chips, fruit juice, and broth. Keep in mind that sports drinks are high in sugar and are not appropriate if you are extremely dehydrated. In this case, you will need an oral rehydration solution.
Avoid drinks that contain milk, caffeine, and alcohol.
Once you feel hungry again, start with mild, easy to digest foods.
Rehydrate children with oral rehydration solutions.