Diane W. Shannon, MD, MPH
Viral gastroenteritis is an infection of the intestines caused by a virus.
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.
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:
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:
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.
Call your doctor if you:
Call your doctor if your child:
You can take several steps to prevent viral gastroenteritis:
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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.
Last reviewed December 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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