Gastroenteritis : Understanding Causes, Symptoms & Treatments


Watery diarrhea, cramping in the stomach, nausea or vomiting, and occasionally fever are all signs and symptoms of viral gastroenteritis, an infection of the intestines.

The most typical way to contract viral gastroenteritis, often known as stomach flu, is by direct contact with an infected person or by ingesting tainted food or drink. If you are otherwise healthy, you should have a smooth recovery. However, viral gastroenteritis can be fatal in young children, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems.

Viral gastroenteritis has no proven cure, thus prevention is essential. Avoid drinking or eating potentially contaminated water, and wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.


Consuming contaminated food or water is the biggest risk factor for developing viral gastroenteritis. You might also be more likely to have gastroenteritis if you share towels, food, or utensils with someone who has one of the viruses that causes the sickness.

Numerous viruses, including the following, can cause gastroenteritis:

Noroviruses. The most typical cause of foodborne sickness in the world, noroviruses can infect both children and adults. Communities and families can become infected with the norovirus very fast. Smaller populations are particularly prone to contract it there.

Typically, contaminated food or drink is how you catch the virus. It can also spread among people who eat together or are near one another. The virus can also be acquired by touching an infected surface. 

touching your mouth after being exposed to norovirus contamination.

Rotavirus. This virus, which children often catch by touching their fingers or other exposed objects, is the main cause of viral gastroenteritis in children. Additionally, tainted food might transmit the disease. The virus most severely affects young children and infants.

Even if an adult has rotavirus infection but shows no symptoms, they are still infectious. This is especially concerning in institutional settings like nursing homes since infected persons may unintentionally infect others. In some nations, notably the United States, a vaccine against viral gastroenteritis is accessible, and it looks to be successful in preventing the infection.

Some shellfish, particularly oysters that are uncooked or undercooked, can also make you feel ill. Viral diarrhoea is caused by contaminated water. However, the virus is frequently spread when a sick person touches food you eat without washing their hands after using the restroom.

How to check if you have Gastroenteritis?

If you are an adult, get in touch with your doctor if:

  • For the whole day, you are unable to swallow liquids.
  • You have had diarrhoea or vomiting that has lasted longer than two days.
  • You are throwing up blood.
  • You are dehydrated, which manifests as extreme thirst, dry mouth, dark yellow urine, little or no urine, extreme weakness, dizziness, or lightheadedness.
  • Your bowel motions contain blood, you observe.
  • You get an intense stomach ache.
  • Your fever is greater than 104 F. (40 C)

For young children and babies

Immediately take your child to the hospital if they:

  • Has a temperature of 102 F (38.9 C) or higher 
  • Appears exhausted or agitated
  • Is really uncomfortable or in pain
  • Has diarrheal blood
  • appears dehydrated

Be alert for symptoms such as the presence of dehydration in sick babies and kids by comparing how much they drink and urinate to how much is typical for them, and by keeping an eye out for symptoms like a dry mouth, thirst, and dry-eyed weeping.

If you have a newborn, keep in mind that while spitting up can be something your child does frequently, vomiting is not. Babies can vomit for a variety of causes, some of which may require medical attention.

Please seek medical assistance, if your baby experiences any of the following:

  • Has regular episodes of vomiting
  • Has had bloody faeces or very bad diarrhoea for the past six hours without a diaper change
  • Has a dry mouth or sobs without tears 
  • Has a sunken soft spot (fontanel) on top of their head 
  • Is unusually drowsy or sleepy or indifferent

Risk Factors

Everywhere in the world, gastroenteritis can strike anyone at any age.

The subsequent individuals may be more susceptible to gastroenteritis:

Children. Due to the length of time it takes for a child's immune system to develop, children attending daycare facilities or elementary schools may be particularly at risk.

Older people. Adult immune systems often become less efficient as they age. Nursing home patients' immune systems decline as they age, making them more vulnerable. Additionally, they live in close proximity to others who could spread the illness.

Either students or those living in dorms. A place where an intestinal infection can spread is somewhere where people congregate in close proximity.

Those with compromised immune systems. If, for example, you have a poor level of infection resistance, you may be particularly vulnerable if your immune system has been damaged by HIV/AIDS, chemotherapy, or another medical condition.


Although gastroenteritis is frequently referred to as "the stomach flu," it is not the same as influenza. The flu only affects your nose, throat, and lungs, not other parts of your body (influenza). On the other hand, gastroenteritis affects your intestines and results in symptoms like:

  • Bloody diarrhoea typically indicates the presence of a separate, more serious ailment and is typically watery.
  • Vomiting, nausea, or both
  •  Stomach aches and cramps
  • Occasional headaches or muscular aches
  •  A minor fever

Viral gastroenteritis symptoms can range from mild to severe and can manifest between 1-3 days of infection, depending on the cause. The typical duration of symptoms is a day or two, although on rare occasions they might persist up to 14 days.

It is simple to mistake viral diarrhoea for diarrhoea brought on by bacteria because the symptoms are similar, such as as parasites such giardia, Clostridioides difficile, salmonella, and E. coli.


The following precautions are the best method to stop the spread of intestinal infections:

Clean your hands completely. Likewise, see to it that your children do. Teach your older children to wash their hands, especially after using the restroom.

After changing a baby's diaper and before cooking or eating food, wash your hands. It is advisable to wash your hands with warm water, soap, and a good 20 seconds of vigorous rubbing. Wash in the wrinkles, under the nails, and around the cuticles. 

Keep your personal items separate all over your house. Do not share drinking cups, plates, or eating utensils. Towels for the bathroom should be separate.

Safely prepare food. Wash all of your fruits and vegetables before eating. Before preparing food on kitchen surfaces, clean those surfaces. Stay away from the kitchen if you are ill.

Take a step back. If at all possible, keep your distance from somebody who has the infection.

Clean up the hard surfaces. Disinfect hard surfaces, such as counters, faucets, and doorknobs, with a solution of 5 to 25 tablespoons (73 to 369 millilitres) of household bleach to 1 gallon (3.8 litres) in case someone in your home has viral gastroenteritis, drink plenty of water.

Do not touch the laundry. If someone in your home has viral gastroenteritis, put on gloves before handling laundry. Dry your bedding and clothing in the warmest setting after washing them in hot water. After handling laundry, thoroughly wash your hands.

Check out the daycare facility. Make sure the facility has separate areas for cooking or serving food and changing diapers. The space where the diaper-changing table is positioned ought to have a sink and a sanitary diaper disposal system.

When visiting other nations, you run the risk of getting sick from tainted food or water. By using the following advice, you might be able to lower your risk:

  • Only ingest properly sealed bottled or carbonated water.
  • Ice cubes should not be used because they are created from water that has been tainted.
  • Brush your teeth with bottled water.
  • Avoid raw foods that have been touched by human hands, such as peeled fruits, raw vegetables, and salads.
  • Steer clear of raw seafood and pork.


Viral gastroenteritis frequently has no specific medical treatment available. Viral infections cannot be treated with antibiotics. Self-care practices like drinking plenty of water are the first step in treatment.

Try the following to maintain your comfort and avoid dehydration while you are recuperating:

  • Allow your tummy to relax. For a few hours, refrain from eating solid foods.
  • Take regular sips of water or suck on ice chips. You might also try consuming clear Coke, clear broths, or sports drinks devoid of caffeine. You can occasionally attempt oral rehydration remedies. Every day, consume a lot of liquids by taking small, regular sips.
  • Return to eating slowly. You can resume eating your regular diet as soon as you are able. At first, you might discover that bland, simple things like soda crackers, soup, oats, noodles, bananas, and rice are all you can stomach. If your nausea returns, stop eating.
  • Until you feel better, stay away from specific foods and medications. These consist of nicotine, fatty or highly-seasoned foods, alcohol, caffeine, and alcohol.
  • Get lots of sleep. You might have become fatigued and weak due to the illness and dehydration.
  • Consider using diarrhoea medicines. To treat their symptoms, some adults may find it beneficial to take loperamide (Imodium A-D) or bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol, among other medications). However, stay away from these if you have a fever or bloody diarrhoea, as these could be symptoms of another illness.

For young children and babies

The most crucial objective when your child has an intestinal illness is to replenish lost fluids and salts. This advice could be useful:

  • Give your child some water. Give your youngster an oral rehydration solution that is over-the-counter in pharmacies. If you are unsure of how to utilise it, consult your doctor.
  • Never feed your youngster bland food. Water is poorly absorbed in children with gastroenteritis and will not fully replenish lost electrolytes. Avoid rehydrating your youngster with apple juice because it can exacerbate diarrhoea.
  • Once hydrated, get your child back to a regular diet. Introduce your child to his or her regular diet after rehydrating him or her. Toast, yoghurt, fruits, and veggies may be included.
  • Do not eat specific things. Give your child no sugary foods, including soda, ice cream, and sweets. These might aggravate diarrhoea.
  • Ensure your youngster gets enough sleep. Your youngster may have been weak and exhausted due to illness and dehydration.
  • Store-bought anti-diarrhoea drugs should not be given to children unless your doctor specifically advises it. They may hinder your child's body's ability to eradicate the virus

Complications of Gastroenteritis

Dehydration, or a serious loss of water and vital salts and minerals, is the most common side effect of viral gastroenteritis. Dehydration should not be an issue if you are in good health and consume enough liquids to make up for the fluids you lose from vomiting and diarrhoea.

When they lose more fluids than they can replace, infants, elderly individuals, and persons with compromised immune systems are particularly susceptible to dehydration. It may be necessary to stay in the hospital so that lost fluids can be restored via an IV in their arms. In rare cases can dehydration result in death.


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Page last reviewed: Mar 14, 2023

Next review due: Mar 14, 2025

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