Viral gastroenteritis, commonly known as the “stomach flu”, is an intestinal infection with some seriously miserable symptoms–think nausea, stomach cramps, and frequent beelines to the bathroom. A number of viruses can cause the unpleasant illness, though norovirus is usually to blame. Rotavirus, adenovirus, astrovirus, and sapovirus are also common.
These viruses are highly contagious, spread quickly from person to person, and are most active from October to April. You can catch a stomach bug simply from being near, shaking hands, or sharing personal items with someone who is sick. You can also develop the illness by consuming contaminated food or water (i.e. food poisoning). Anyone can get viral gastroenteritis, though young children, older adults, dormitory residents, and those with weakened immune systems are more vulnerable.
It’s important to note that the so-called “stomach flu” is not the same as influenza. Real flu is a respiratory infection, whereas gastroenteritis attacks the intestines.
Viral Gastroenteritis symptoms include:
- Watery, nonbloody diarrhea*
- Abdominal cramps and pain
- Nausea, vomiting or both
- Occasional muscle aches or headache
- Low-grade fever
*When you have an intestinal infection, your large intestine struggles to retain fluids, which leads to loose, watery stool, generally without smell or blood. Bloody diarrhea may indicate a more severe infection. Head straight to the ER if you notice this symptom.
Symptoms of viral gastroenteritis come on abruptly, and fortunately, don’t last long. The illness usually runs its course within 1-2 days. And since antibiotics are ineffective against viruses, the best treatment plan is plenty of rest and extra fluids. Dehydration as a result of diarrhea and vomiting can be a serious concern, so head into our urgent care center if:
- You’re unable to keep liquids down for 24 hours
- You experience vomiting that lasts more than two days
- You’re dehydrated — signs of dehydration include excessive thirst, dry mouth, deep yellow urine or little or no urine, and severe weakness, dizziness or lightheadedness
- You’re vomiting blood
- You have a fever above 104 F (40 C)