• Viral Gastroenteritis

    (Stomach Flu; Stomach Bug)


    Viral gastroenteritis is an infection of the intestines caused by a virus.
    The Intestines
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


    Viral gastroenteritis is caused by one of several viruses that assault the intestines. The viruses are usually spread through contact with someone who is infected or with something an infected person touched. Viral gastroenteritis also can spread through food or water that is contaminated.

    Risk Factors

    Viral gastroenteritis is more common in children and child care centers and in older adults in nursing homes.
    Risk factors for viral gastroenteritis include group settings such as:
    • Cruise ships
    • College dormitories
    • Campgrounds


    The symptoms of viral gastroenteritis usually begin between 1 to 2 days after you’re exposed to the virus. The illness usually lasts 1 to 2 days, but it can rarely last for up to 10 days.
    Symptoms may include:
    • Watery diarrhea
    • Nausea
    • Vomiting
    • Abdominal cramps
    • Fever
    • Muscle aches
    • Headache
    Vomiting and diarrhea can lead to dehydration (losing more water than you take in), especially in children.


    You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Your doctor may also order a stool culture. This test looks for bacteria in a stool sample, which would indicate a different type of illness.


    There is no specific medical treatment for viral gastroenteritis. Antibiotics are not helpful for infections caused by a virus. However, there are a number of things you can do to be more comfortable and avoid dehydration.
    • Fluids—It is important to drink fluids to replace those you’ve lost when sick. Take small sips of water, suck on ice chips, or drink clear soda or noncaffeinated sports drinks. Give your child an oral rehydration solution (such as Pedialyte) instead of water.
    • Diet—Gradually begin to eat bland foods, such as toast, crackers, bananas, rice, chicken, and potatoes. Avoid dairy products, caffeine, fatty foods, and spicy foods until you’re feeling better. If you’re breast-feeding an infant who is sick, continue to breast-feed. If your baby is bottle-fed, give him or her oral rehydration solution or formula.
    • Rest—Make sure you get enough rest while you’re sick and when you’re recovering. If your child is sick, make sure he or she gets plenty of rest.
    Call your doctor if you:
    • Can’t keep fluids down for 24 hours
    • Vomit blood
    • Have bloody diarrhea
    • Have a fever above 101 degrees Fahrenheit
    • Vomit for more than 2 days
    • Have signs of dehydration:
      • Lightheadedness
      • Excessive thirst
      • Dry mouth
      • Dark urine
      • Little or no urine
    Call your doctor if your child:
    • Is under 6 months of age
    • Has a fever of 102 degrees Fahrenheit (38.8 degrees Celsuis) or higher
    • Seems tired or irritable
    • Has bloody diarrhea
    • Has stomach pain
    • Has signs of dehydration:
      • Unusual drowsiness
      • Dry lips and mouth
      • No tears when crying
      • Dark urine
      • Not urinating very much (for example, no wet diaper in 3 hours)
      • Feeling thirsty but vomiting after drinking fluids


    You can take several steps to prevent viral gastroenteritis:
    • If possible, avoid contact with people who have the condition.
    • Always wash your hands thoroughly. Use warm water and soap, rub vigorously, and rinse well.
    • Help your children wash their hands thoroughly.
    • Use bleach to disinfect contaminated surfaces in your home (toilet, sink faucet in bathroom).
    • Don’t share personal items, such as toothbrush, towels, and drinking glasses.
    • Take special care when traveling to countries that are more likely to have contaminated food and water. Only drink bottled water, avoid ice cubes, and don’t eat raw foods, including vegetables.


    Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians http://www.familydoctor.org

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention http://www.cdc.gov


    Alberta Health http://www.health.gov.ab.ca

    HealthLink BC http://www.bchealthguide.org


    Norovirus. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/norovirus/. Accessed December 18, 2014.

    Norovirus infection. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated September 22, 2014. Accessed December 18, 2014.

    Revision Information

  • LiveWell personal health survey

    How healthy are you really? Find out – free.Learn more

    It's time to stop guessing. If you want to make some changes but just aren't sure how, the free personal health survey from LiveWell is a great place to start.

  • HeartSHAPE Spotlight

    At risk for a heart attack? Learn more

    Fight heart disease and prevent heart attacks. HeartSHAPE® is a painless, non-invasive test that checks pictures of your heart for early-stage coronary disease.

  • Calories and Energy Needs

    Calorie NeedsLearn more

    How many calories do you need to eat each day to maintain your weight and fuel your physical activity? Enter a few of your stats into this calculator to find out.

  • Ideal Body Weight

    Ideal Body WeightLearn more

    Using body mass index as a reference, this calculator determines your ideal body weight range. All you need to do is enter your height.

  • Body Mass Index

    Body Mass IndexLearn more

    This tool considers your height and weight to assess your weight status.

  • Can we help answer your questions?

    Wellmont Nurse Connection is your resource for valuable health information any time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Speak to a Nurse any time, day or night, at (423) 723-6877 or toll-free at 1-877-230-NURSE.