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Viral Gastroenteritis - Causes, Treatment, Complications and Prevention

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Viral gastroenteritis generally causes vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, anorexia, dehydration, and weight loss. Read the article for more information.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Jagdish Singh

Published At March 21, 2022
Reviewed AtJune 30, 2023

Introduction:

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 acquired via contact with an infected person or by drinking contaminated water and eating contaminated food. For most people, the infection resolves in a few days without any treatment.

What Is Viral Gastroenteritis?

Gastroenteritis means a condition in which the inflammation of the intestines and the stomach occurs. Viral gastroenteritis means inflammation caused by a virus. There are various types of viruses that are responsible for 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 Causes Gastroenteritis?

Various types of viruses cause viral gastroenteritis. 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:

Norovirus is the prime factor causing viral gastroenteritis. It is a highly contracting virus that has the potential to affect people of all age groups. 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 many million cases of acute gastroenteritis, norovirus was found to be the dominant cause.

Rotavirus:

Rotavirus 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.

How Do the Viruses Causing Gastroenteritis Transmit?

The viruses get transmitted by:

  • Eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water.

  • Sharing objects with the infected person.

  • Touching the contaminated surfaces. A surface gets contaminated when the infected person touches the surface without washing their hands after coughing or sneezing.

  • Not washing hands properly before handling food items.

  • Being in close contact with the infected person.

Who Does the Gastroenteritis Virus Effect?

The viruses can be contracted by people of any age group, but there are people who are at high risk of getting 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 live 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 a person notices signs of dehydration like dizziness, dry lips, sunken eyes, etc.

How Do Patient Know If They Have Viral Gastroenteritis?

If a patient is facing any of the above mentioned symptoms, then the patient should immediately seek medical attention. The doctor will diagnose the condition from the symptoms reported. The doctor can also refer the patient's medical history to identify the underlying cause of the 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 primary goal of the treatment is to avoid further problems 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 the 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 digested easily, so may not cause any irritation to the stomach.

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

  • Fried foods.

  • Fat-rich foods.

  • Caffeine.

  • Sugary foods.

  • Dairy products.

  • Fresh juices.

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:

  • Swelling of the brain.

  • Hypovolemic shock.

  • Seizures.

  • Coma.

  • Nutritional imbalances.

  • Muscle weakness.

  • Confusion or lethargy.

  • Kidney failure.

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 the patient can implement to lower the risk of contracting the virus as well as prevent them from spreading to others:

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

  • The objects or utensils should not be shared with others if feeling unwell or if someone in the 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 drinking water. Proper precautions should be taken when the patient is traveling to different places.

Conclusion:

Viral gastroenteritis is a contagious infection but practicing proper hygiene measures helps lower the risk of contracting the virus. The disease is most usually self-limited and gets resolved in one to three days. Yet, in susceptible patients including young children, elderly patients, and immunocompromised patients, hospitalization can occur without supportive care that leads to increased morbidity and mortality.

Frequently Asked Questions

1.

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.

2.

Does Coronavirus Infection Cause Viral Gastroenteritis?

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

3.

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.

4.

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.

5.

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.

6.

Which Antibiotic Is Used to Cure Gastroenteritis?

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

7.

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.

8.

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.

9.

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.
Dr. Jagdish Singh
Dr. Jagdish Singh

Medical Gastroenterology

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viral infections
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