Viral Gastroenteritis

Living in close proximity with others (such as in a college dorm) can increase your likelihood of getting sick. Find out how to diagnose, treat, and seek help for common illnesses such as nausea/vomiting.

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What is viral gastroenteritis?

Gastroenteritis is the inflammation of the stomach and small and large intestines. Viral gastroenteritis, then, is an infection caused by a virus that results in vomiting or diarrhea. It is often called the "stomach flu," although it is not caused by the influenza viruses.

What causes viral gastroenteritis?

Many different viruses can cause gastroenteritis, including rotaviruses, noroviruses, adenoviruses, type 40 or 41, sapoviruses, and astroviruses. Viral gastroenteritis is not caused by bacteria (such as Salmonella or Escherichia coli) or parasites (such as Giardia), or by medications or other medical conditions, although the symptoms may be similar. Your doctor can determine if the diarrhea is caused by a virus or by something else.

How is viral gastroenteritis transmitted?

Viral gastroenteritis is contagious. The viruses that cause gastroenteritis are spread through close contact with infected persons (for example, by sharing food, water, or eating utensils).

What are the symptoms of viral gastroenteritis?


Symptoms generally begin 1 to 2 days following infection with a virus that causes gastroenteritis, and may last for 1 to 10 days. They can include:

  • Vomiting
  • Watery diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Abdominal cramps ("stomach ache")

What can I do to feel better?

The best way to treat viral gastroenteritis is to rest and prevent severe loss of fluids (dehydration). Drink plenty of clear fluids like water, Gatorade and soup broth. There is no medication currently available that will treat viral gastroenteritis.

What preventative measures can I take?


Persons can reduce their chance of getting infected by:

  • Frequent hand washing
  • Not sharing food, water, or eating utensils
  • Prompt disinfection of contaminated surfaces with household chlorine bleach-based cleaners
  • Prompt washing of soiled articles of clothing


If you have any questions about vomiting and/or diarrhea you can call the Medical Clinic at
(414) 288-7184 and ask to speak with a nurse.