Virtual Care > Virtual Care: Stomach Flu (Viral Gastroenteritis)
Viral gastroenteritis is an inflammation, swelling, and irritation of the inside lining of your gastrointestinal tract. A virus causes this illness. It can infect your stomach, small intestine, and large intestine.
Viral gastroenteritis is very common. In most cases, it lasts only a few days and doesn’t require treatment. The biggest danger is dehydration from loss of fluid due to diarrhea and vomiting.
Several viruses can cause gastroenteritis. Viruses can be found in the vomit and the diarrhea of infected people. It can live for a long time outside the body. People who are infected can spread the virus to objects they touch, especially if they don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom. Food workers with the infection can spread it to others through food and beverages. Sewage that gets into the water supply can also spread the illness. Although viral gastroenteritis is sometimes called "stomach flu," the seasonal influenza (flu) virus does not cause it.
Some of the common viruses that cause gastroenteritis include:
Many other viruses can also cause viral gastroenteritis.
Symptoms of viral gastroenteritis usually begin about 1 to 2 days after the virus gets into the body.
Common symptoms include:
Other possible symptoms are:
Signs of dehydration:
Signs of dehydration in young children:
Your health care provider will most likely diagnose your condition based on your history and symptoms. You will rarely need testing. If your symptoms persist, your health care provider may ask for a stool sample to look for viruses, bacteria, and parasites.
Vaccines are available to protect children from rotavirus. Health care providers give shots to babies before age 6 months. You and your children can help prevent viral gastroenteritis by taking these steps:
Specific treatment is not usually needed. Usually, you simply need to drink plenty of fluids and rest at home until the virus leaves your system. In rare cases, you may need treatment for severe dehydration, with IV (intravenous) fluids.
Helpful home care tips include:
Viral gastroenteritis is common in children and adults. In most cases, the disease is not serious and will run its course in a few days. Call your health care provider if you or a family member has vomiting or diarrhea that’s not getting better, or if you have any signs of dehydration.