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Viral gastroenteritis
Other Resources UpToDate PubMed

Viral gastroenteritis

Contributors: Neil Mendoza MD, Paritosh Prasad MD
Other Resources UpToDate PubMed


Viral pathogens can infect the gastrointestinal tract in both children and adults. The syndrome typically includes diarrhea and may include other symptoms such as vomiting and abdominal pain.

Many viruses cause this syndrome, including noroviruses, rotaviruses, sapoviruses, adenoviruses, and astroviruses.

Adult patients typically present with acute onset (often within 24-48 hours of exposure) of diarrhea and vomiting. There is often associated nausea, fever, malaise, anorexia, and abdominal pain. The illness typically lasts about 2 days. Secondary attack rates can be high (especially if infection is due to the noroviruses).

Newborn infants may present with watery diarrhea and poor feeding. Fever and vomiting are less common. Some cases can be associated with electrolyte abnormalities. The illness may last up to 15 days. The severity of symptoms can vary and depend on the availability of adequate supportive care (some series report a high mortality). Although some viral pathogens have been associated with newborn nursery outbreaks, certain Escherichia coli strains are more commonly responsible.

Patients with AIDS or who are otherwise immunosuppressed may have a prolonged course associated with significant weight loss when infected with certain viral pathogens. One particular viral pathogen of importance in this population is cytomegalovirus. The differential diagnosis of diarrhea in immunosuppressed patients is quite broad, and it is helpful to involve an infectious diseases expert in the care of these patients.

Outbreaks of gastroenteritis are common in closed communities including schools, hospitals, cruise ships, and nursing homes as well as in restaurants or from catered meals.

For causes of bacterial gastroenteritis, see Gastroenteritis.


A08.4 – Viral intestinal infection, unspecified

111843007 – Viral gastroenteritis

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Last Reviewed:11/30/2016
Last Updated:12/08/2022
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Patient Information for Viral gastroenteritis
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Contributors: Medical staff writer


Viral gastroenteritis, or stomach flu, is the swelling of the stomach and intestines caused by a virus. People with viral gastroenteritis often experience diarrhea, stomach cramps, vomiting, and nausea. This virus is highly contagious and can be spread through contaminated food, water, or close person-to-person contact.

Who’s At Risk

Gastroenteritis is common throughout the world. Those at higher risk for severe sickness include young children, older adults, and anyone who has a weak immune system. People who live in close contact with many others, such as in hospitals, schools, and nursing homes, are at a higher risk of being exposed to outbreaks of viral gastroenteritis.

Signs & Symptoms

The most common symptoms of gastroenteritis include watery diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, and a slight fever. You may experience muscle aches or headaches. Symptoms usually appear 1-3 days after initial infection and can last for as long as 10 days.

Self-Care Guidelines

After symptoms appear, limit solid food intake for a few hours to let your stomach settle. Because a lot of electrolytes and fluids are lost from diarrhea and vomiting, fluids with electrolytes (eg, Pedialyte, Gatorade) should be consumed in small amounts every 30-60 minutes. Bland food that is easy to digest such as bananas, plain yogurt, and vegetables should help with stomach discomfort.

Use ibuprofen (Advil) cautiously as it can upset the stomach even more. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) should be used sparingly as it can cause liver toxicity, especially in children. Avoid over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medicine, as it may get in the way of your body's ability to fight the virus.

When to Seek Medical Care

Seek medical care if you are unable to keep down fluids because of nausea and vomiting. Also, if any of the following symptoms are present, contact a health care provider:
  • Blood in stool
  • Dizziness / feeling faint
  • No urine for at least 8 hours
  • Confusion


There is no medical treatment for viral gastroenteritis. The most effective treatment consists of maintaining hydration and eating foods that do not upset the stomach. If you are at a high risk of dehydration, intravenous fluids can be administered at the hospital.
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Viral gastroenteritis
A medical illustration showing key findings of Viral gastroenteritis : Abdominal pain, Fever, Nausea, Vomiting, Abdominal cramp, Anorexia, Watery diarrhea
Copyright © 2023 VisualDx®. All rights reserved.