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Viral Gastroenteritis - Causes, Treatment, Complications and Prevention

Published on Mar 21, 2022 and last reviewed on Nov 22, 2022   -  5 min read


Is your child suffering from abdominal pain, diarrhea, and vomiting? Read the article below to know what causes these symptoms and how to manage the condition.


Viral gastroenteritis is a contagious intestinal infection caused by a virus, most commonly the norovirus and rotavirus. It is characterized by watery diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and sometimes fever. It is also known as stomach flu, and it can be transmitted via contact with an infected person or by ingesting contaminated food and water. For most people, the infection resolves in a few days without any treatment. This article will offer you some good information about viral gastroenteritis.

What Is Viral Gastroenteritis?

Gastroenteritis refers to the inflammation of the stomach and the intestines. Viral gastroenteritis means inflammation caused by a virus. There are many different types of viruses that cause this infection. Usually, influenza viruses are to be blamed, but in the case of viral gastroenteritis, influenza viruses have no role to play. In most instances, people recover quickly from the stomach flu, but there are chances for the symptoms to worsen in children and babies.

What Are the Causes for Viral Gastroenteritis?

Viral gastroenteritis is caused by various types of viruses. You get sick after ingesting the food contaminated with these viruses. The viruses that are commonly responsible for causing viral gastroenteritis are:

  • Norovirus.

  • Rotavirus.


Norovirus is the leading cause of viral gastroenteritis. It is a contagious virus that can affect people of any age. This virus can spread easily through either direct or indirect contact with the infected person. Norovirus can be one common source of food poisoning. In a survey, it was found that in around 685 million cases of acute gastroenteritis, norovirus was found to be the leading cause.


Rotavirus is usually transmitted through the oral route. It commonly affects infants and children who are below five years. Rotavirus is also a highly contagious virus. It can also affect adults, but the symptoms are less severe in adults. The infection caused due to rotavirus does not usually require any treatment as it resolves on its own.

The other viruses that can cause viral gastroenteritis include:

  • Astrovirus.

  • Enteric adenovirus.

The viruses get transmitted by:

The viruses can affect people of any age, but there are certain people who are at high risk of contracting the infection. They include:

  • Children who are below five years.

  • Adults with weakened immune systems.

  • Adults living in nursing homes or other assisted living areas.

  • People living in group settings like schools, dormitories, hostels, and religious gatherings.

  • People who traveled recently to different countries.

  • People who are malnourished.

  • The risk is high in people who have taken excessive medications like antibiotics or antacids.

How Does Viral Gastroenteritis Present?

The symptoms of viral gastroenteritis appear immediately within four hours to 48 hours of exposure to the virus. The commonly reported symptoms include:

  • Loose and watery diarrhea more than three times a day. Diarrhea caused due to viral gastroenteritis is usually not bloody, but if it contains blood in the stools, then it is indicative of a severe infection.

  • Abdominal pain.

  • Nausea and vomiting.

  • Loss of appetite.

The other symptoms of viral gastroenteritis include:

  • Fever.

  • Chills.

  • Headaches.

  • Joint pain and muscle aches.

Symptoms can indicate that immediate medical attention is required when:

  • Diarrhea lasts for more than three days, and the frequency of the diarrhea is more.

  • There is blood in stools.

  • If you notice signs of dehydration like dry lips, dizziness, sunken eyes, etc.

How Do I Know If I Have Viral Gastroenteritis?

If you are facing any of the above-mentioned symptoms, immediately seek medical attention. Your doctor will diagnose the condition from the symptoms reported. The doctor may also go through your medical history to identify the underlying cause of your condition. If the symptoms persist the doctor asks for stool samples. Collecting the stool samples will help to identify the viruses or bacteria that are causing the condition.

Can Viral Gastroenteritis Be Treated?

The major goal of the treatment is to prevent further complications like dehydration. The symptoms can be treated, by following the below mentioned measures:

  • To prevent dehydration, drink plenty of fluids.

  • In severe cases of dehydration, hospitalization may be recommended where intravenous fluids are administered.

  • Over-the-counter drugs like Loperamide are recommended to treat diarrhea, and over-the-counter antiemetic drugs are recommended to treat vomiting. Consult your doctor before following the prescribed medications.

Note: Medications can be avoided unless specifically recommended by the healthcare provider.

  • Children can take sports drinks to replace the electrolytes lost due to diarrhea and vomiting.

  • Try to eat food in small portions rather than taking large meals. Drink plenty of fluids in between every meal.

  • Take adequate amounts of rest.

What to Eat And What Not To?

Doctors may sometimes suggest taking probiotics to improve gut health. Once you start to feel better, you can start eating soft and bland foods like:

  • Rice.

  • Bananas.

  • Potatoes.

  • Yogurt.

These foods get easily digested, hence it is less likely to cause any irritation to the stomach.

It is best to avoid the following foods until your condition improves, as taking these foods can worsen the condition.

  • Fried foods.

  • Fat-rich foods.

  • Caffeine.

  • Sugary foods.

  • Dairy products.

  • Fresh juices.

viral gastroenteritis

What Are the Complications of Viral Gastroenteritis?

  • Dehydration: The major complication of viral gastroenteritis is dehydration. Dehydration is a serious and fatal condition. The signs of dehydration include:

  • Dry mouth.

  • Fatigue.

  • Increased thirst.

  • Decreased urination.

  • Dry skin.

  • Constipation.

  • Dizziness.

  • Headaches.

  • Lack of sweat production.

Dehydration, when associated with viral gastroenteritis, can lead to several other complications like:

  • Swelling of the brain.

  • Hypovolemic shock.

  • Kidney failure.

  • Seizures.

  • Coma.

  • Nutritional imbalances.

  • Muscle weakness.

  • Confusion or lethargy.

Are There Any Ways We Can Prevent Viral Gastroenteritis?

Viral gastroenteritis is a highly contagious disease, so it spreads easily. Here are a few tips you can implement to lower the risk of contracting the virus as well as prevent them from spreading to others:

  • Wash your hands frequently, especially prior to your food preparation. Make sure to develop the habit of washing your hands after using the bathroom.

  • Do not share your objects or utensils with others if you are feeling unwell or if someone in your household is sick.

  • Eat preferably home cooked meals. Avoid eating raw or undercooked food.

  • Wash the fruits and vegetables thoroughly before consuming or preparing them.

  • Boil your drinking water. Take proper precautions when you are traveling to different places.


Viral gastroenteritis is a contagious infection but practicing proper hygiene measures helps lower the risk of contracting the virus.

Frequently Asked Questions


What Are the Treatments for Viral Gastroenteritis?

Viral gastroenteritis can be cured by following the following steps,
Try to avoid solid food intake for a few hours. This will help your stomach settle.
- Drink water often.
- Sip on an ice chip often.
- If you feel hungry, start with soft, easily digestible foods.
- Intake prescribed anti-diarrhea medicines.


Does Coronavirus Infection Cause Viral Gastroenteritis?

Coronavirus infection can cause symptoms related to gastrointestinal problems, such as vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.


What Causes Viral Gastroenteritis?

A person might get affected by viral gastroenteritis if they consume food or drinks from a contaminated vessel or if the food itself is infected with a virus like Norovirus, which may cause viral gastroenteritis.


How Long Does It Take To Cure Viral Gastroenteritis?

Depending on the severity, the symptoms may last for a few days, between one day and 14 days.


Can I Cure Viral Gastroenteritis at Home Without Any Medicines?

Yes, mild to moderate cases of viral gastroenteritis can cure themselves in a few days or weeks if proper care is taken at home.


Which Antibiotic Is Used to Cure Gastroenteritis?

Mild to moderate cases of gastroenteritis can be cured using antibiotics such as Ampicillin.


Which Medicine Is Best for Treating Stomach Infections?

Depending upon your symptoms and severity, your doctor might prescribe Promethazine, Metoclopramide, Prochlorperazine, or Ondansetron. However, most stomach infections do not need any medicines, and they can cure themselves in a few days or weeks. So, never intake any pills without your doctor’s advice.


How to Get Good Sleep With Gastroenteritis?

Sipping warm ginger tea or peppermint tea can help soothe the irritated stomach and can help in getting better sleep. Also, try to distract yourself from being sick by listening to a piece of good music or by reading a good book.


Can I Take a Hot Shower to Feel Better From Gastroenteritis?

Yes, taking a relaxing hot shower can help with reducing symptoms associated with flu.

Last reviewed at:
22 Nov 2022  -  5 min read




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