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Viral gastroenteritis (stomach flu)


Disease: Viral gastroenteritis (stomach flu) Viral gastroenteritis (stomach flu)
Category: Digestive diseases

Disease Definition:

The intestinal infection marked by watery diarrhea, nausea, vomiting or abdominal cramps, and occasionally fever is called viral gastroenteritis or stomach flu. Ingesting contaminated food or water; and coming into contact with an infected person are the two most common ways of developing viral gastroenteritis. A person will recover without any complications in case he/she is otherwise healthy. However, the condition could be deadly for older adults, people with compromised immune systems or infants. Prevention is the key to viral gastroenteritis for no effective treatment is available. And the best defense is thorough and frequent hand washing and avoiding food and water that might be contaminated. 

Work Group:

Prepared by: Scientific Section

Symptoms, Causes


Gastroenteritis isn’t the same as influenza despite the fact that it’s usually called stomach flu. The nose, throat and lungs (respiratory system) are affected by the real flu, while on the other hand, gastroenteritis attacks the intestines, causing some of these signs and symptoms: 

  • Abdominal cramps and pain
  • Nausea, vomiting or both
  • Low-grade fever
  • Watery, often non-bloody diarrhea; bloody diarrhea often means the person has a different, more severe infection.
  • Occasional headaches or muscle aches


Symptoms of viral gastroenteritis may appear within one to three days after being infected and can range from mild to severe, depending on the cause. Although symptoms may sometimes persist for as long as 10 days, but they usually last only a day or two. It’s easy to confuse viral diarrhea with diarrhea resulting from bacteria, since the symptoms are similar; for example, salmonella and Escherichia coli (E. Coli) or parasites such as giardia. In case the patient’s an adult, the doctor should be consulted in case he/she:

  • Is vomiting blood
  • Has been vomiting for more than two days
  • Isn’t able to keep liquids down for 24 hours
  • Has noticed blood in the bowel movements
  • Has a fever above 40 C (104 F)
  • Is dehydrated. Dry mouth; severe weakness, dizziness or lightheadedness; excessive thirst; and deep yellow urine or little or no urine are the signs and symptoms of dehydration.


Parents should contact the doctor immediately in case the child:

  • Has a fever of 38.9 C (102 F) or higher
  • Is in a lot of pain or discomfort
  • Seems lethargic or very irritable
  • Seems dehydrated. Parents should watch for signs of dehydration in sick infants and children by comparing how much they drink and urinate with how much is normal for them.
  • Has bloody diarrhea


While spitting might be a normal occurrence for the baby, but vomiting is not. Babies vomit for several reasons, many of which might need medical attention. Parents should contact the doctor immediately in case the baby:

  • Has a dry mouth or cries without tears
  • Has bloody stools or severe diarrhea
  • Hasn’t had a wet diaper in six hours
  • Is unusually drowsy, sleepy or unresponsive
  • Has vomiting that lingers more than several hours
  • Has a sunken fontanel, which is the soft spot on the top of the baby’s head


Sharing utensils, food or towels with an infected person and eating or drinking contaminated food or water are some of the common ways of contracting viral gastroenteritis. Some shellfish, specifically raw or undercooked oysters, might make a person sick. Viral diarrhea could also be caused by contaminated drinking water. But the virus is passed through the fecal-oral route in several cases, this happens when someone who has the virus handles food without washing their hands after using the bathroom, and the person eats it. Gastroenteritis could be caused by several viruses, such as:



This virus is a leading cause of death among children. It is also the most common cause of infectious diarrhea in infants and children worldwide. Thousands of children are hospitalized with complications of the infection each year. Before the age of 5, a child is likely to have rotavirus at least once. Putting their fingers or other objects contaminated with the virus into their mouths is the most common way by which children contract the virus. Adults can spread the virus despite the fact that they don’t show any symptoms. Some people might spread the virus even though they don’t have any symptoms of illness themselves; this is especially true for people who are in institutional settings. In some countries, a vaccine is available against rotaviral gastroenteritis, and appears to be effective in preventing severe symptoms. Parents should consult the doctor about whether to immunize their child or not.



There are various different strains of noroviruses, including Norwalk virus, all of which cause symptoms that are alike. The patient may experience fatigue, low-grade fever, muscle aches and headache in addition to nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
Noroviruses affects both children and adults. Norovirus infection could sweep through families and communities. The infection is especially likely to spread among people in confined spaces. Even though person-to-person transmission is possible, but people usually pick up the virus from contaminated food or water. The person is likely to feel sick within 18 to 72 hours after getting exposed to the virus. The affected person will be contagious for at least three days and up to two weeks after recovering, despite the fact that most people get better in a day or two. A leading cause of death among children in developing countries is seen to be gastroenteritis. Gastroenteritis affects people of every race, age and background and it occurs all over the world. Since children’s immune system aren’t mature enough until about the age of 6, and adult immune systems tend to get less efficient later in life, children in child care centers and older adults living in nursing homes are specifically vulnerable.


Intestinal infections could expand anywhere people congregate, from dormitories and schools to luxury cruise ships and campgrounds. Adults with HIV/AIDS are especially at risk, in addition to those who have other medical conditions that seem to weaken their immune systems and lower their resistance.


Each gastrointestinal virus has a season when it’s most active. Someone in the Northern Hemisphere is more likely to contract rotavirus or the Norwalk virus between October and April.



The most common serious complication of gastroenteritis is dehydration; a severe loss of water and essential salts and minerals. Dehydration wouldn’t be a problem if the patient is a healthy adult and drinks enough fluids to replace the fluids that are lost from diarrhea and vomiting. People might need to be hospitalized and receive intravenous fluids in case they have a suppressed immune system or if they’re older adults or children and got severely dehydrated because they have lost more fluids than they could replace. Dehydration could be fatal in extreme cases.


Usually viral gastroenteritis doesn’t have any specific medical treatment. Antibiotics aren’t effective against viruses and overusing them could contribute to the growth of antibiotic-resistant variants of bacteria. Self-care steps are involved in the treatment of this condition.
The following will keep the person more comfortable preventing dehydration while recovering:


Letting the stomach settle:

For a few hours, the patient should stop eating and drinking.


Sucking on ice chips or taking small sips of water:

While affected adults should try drinking plenty of fluid every day, by taking small and frequent sips, they could also try drinking clear soda, clear broths or non-caffeinated sports drinks.


Easing back into eating:

The patient should gradually start eating bland, easy-to-digest foods like soda crackers, gelatin, toast, bananas, rice and chicken; but if the nausea returns, he/she should stop eating.


Avoiding certain foods and substances until the feeling better:

Caffeine, dairy products, alcohol, fatty or highly seasoned foods and nicotine are included in this.


Getting plenty of rest:

This is because the patient may become tired and weak due to the illness and dehydration.


Being cautious with medications:

Usage of medications such as ibuprofen should be spared, or not used at all, for they could disturb the stomach even more. Acetaminophen could be used cautiously, for it could occasionally cause liver toxicity, specifically in children.


In the case of having intestinal infection, the most important aim is replacing lost fluids and salts. These might:


Help the child rehydrate:

The child should be given an oral rehydration solution like pedialyte. In children with gastroenteritis, water shouldn’t be used because water isn’t absorbed well and won’t replace lost electrolytes adequately. Oral rehydration solutions can be found in most grocery shops. Because apple juice makes diarrhea worse, parents shouldn’t give it to their dehydrated children.


Get back to a normal diet slowly:

Bland, easy-to-digest foods such as rice, toast, potatoes and bananas should be introduced gradually.


Avoid certain foods:

The child mustn’t be given dairy products and sugary foods for they could make diarrhea worse, such as ice cream, candy and sodas.


Make sure the child gets plenty of rest:

This is because the illness and dehydration might have made the child tired and weak.


Don't give children or teenagers aspirin:

A rare but possibly fatal disease might result from this called Reye’s syndrome. Unless suggested by the doctor, the child shouldn’t be given any over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medications like loperamide, because they could make it more difficult for the child’s body to get rid of the virus.


In case a person has a sick infant, before giving small amoiunts of liquid, the baby’s stomach should rest for 15 to 20 minutes after vomiting or a bout of diarrhea. In case the baby’s breast-fed, the mother should let the baby nurse. And in case the baby’s bottle-fed, he/she could be offered a small amount of an oral rehydration solution or regular formula. The infant’s formula shouldn’t be diluted.


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