Viral Gastroenteritis

What is viral gastroenteritis?
Viral gastroenteritis is a stomach upset caused by viruses that causes inflammation of the stomach and small and large intestines. Many different viruses can cause gastroenteritis. In Ireland Norovirus and Rotavirus are the most common causes. Other viruses that can cause gastroenteritis include Adenovirus, Astrovirus and Sapovirus.

How is viral gastroenteritis spread?
Viral gastroenteritis is easily spread and for this reason is a common cause of outbreaks in areas where large groups of people congregate e.g. healthcares institutions, hotels, cruise ships and crèches. Virus particles are shed in the vomit and faeces of infected individuals and spread of the virus can occur through close contact with infected persons e.g. sharing food, water, eating utensils. Transmission of the virus can also occur through the inhalation of airborne droplets. Eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water may also cause infection.

What are the symptoms of viral gastroenteritis?
The main symptoms of viral gastroenteritis is vomiting and/or diarrhoea. The infected person may also suffer from abdominal cramps, fever and headache. Symptoms usually occur 1 to 2 days after the initial infection occurs and may last for 1 to 10 days depending on the virus that is causing the illness.

Who is at risk of infection?
Viral gastroenteritis can affect anyone, however some viruses tend to mainly cause illness in specific age groups e.g. Rotavirus infections primarily occur in infants and young children under 5 years of age; Adenoviruses and astroviruses cause disease mostly in young children and Noroviral infection is common in children and adults.

How is viral gastroenteritis diagnosed?
Viral gastroenteritis is diagnosed on the basis of symptoms and a medical exam. In some cases your doctor may request a stool specimen to confirm which virus is causing the infection.

How is viral gastroenteritis treated?
There is no specific treatment for viral gastroenteritis however it is important to avoid becoming dehydrated by drinking plenty of fluids for the duration of the illness. This is particularly important for infants, young children, the elderly and immunocompromised. If dehydration occurs, hospitalisation for rehydration therapy may be required.

Can viral gastroenteritis be prevented?

  • Good hygiene will reduce the risk of infection.
  • Thorough handwashing after using the toilet, changing nappies and before and after handling food will help prevent spread.
  • Areas contaminated with vomit or faeces should be promptly cleaned and disinfected with household chlorine bleach based cleaners.
  • People who have been ill with vomiting or diarrhoea should remain out of work for at least 48 hours after their symptoms have stopped.

Updated 1st July 2010