What is gastroenteritis?

Gastroenteritis, also known as the stomach flu, is usually caused by a virus, most often the norovirus. It is very contagious, especially in close living quarters such as college campuses. While gastroenteritis can be intense and miserable, the good news is that symptoms usually last just 1-2 days while the immune system takes care of it. Occasionally, however, some symptoms can last up to 10 days.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Watery diarrhea (not usually bloody)
  • Abdominal cramps and pain
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Muscle aches
  • Headache
  • Low grade fever

Causes of gastroenteritis:

Gastroenteritis is most commonly caused by noroviruses. It is highly contagious and can be passed from person to person or via contaminated food. In young children, the rotavirus is usually the cause of viral gastroenteritis, with other causes being undercooked shellfish or other food, or food contamination from non-hygienic practices by food service workers.

How can I treat gastroenteritis? When do I need to seek medical care?

The biggest danger with this condition is dehydration. With fluids being lost at both ends of the digestive system, it is difficult for the body to absorb enough. However, dehydration isn’t usually serious unless it’s been 2 days for a healthy adult size body. While enduring the illness, the best things to do are:

  • Take it easy on your stomach. Stop eating solid foods for a bit to let your GI system rest.
  • Try to drink fluids, a little bit at a time. Suggestions include sucking on ice chips, small sips of water, broths, clear soda.
  • When you feel like eating, choose bland foods that are easier to digest such as crackers, toast, bananas, rice, or chicken. Avoid dairy products, caffeine, alcohol, fatty or spicy foods.
  • Get plenty of rest
  • Be careful with medications as they can upset your stomach

Call your provider if you notice the following:
  • You can’t keep liquids down for 24 straight hours, or you’ve been vomiting for 2+ days
  • There’s blood in your vomit or in your stool
  • You have a fever above 104⁰F
  • You are dehydrated- signs of dehydration include excessive thirst, dry mouth, dark yellow urine, little or no urine, severe weakness dizziness, or lightheadedness

How can I prevent gastroenteritis?

As with any contagious illness, there are several things that can be helpful to help in prevention:

  • Hand hygiene is number one: wash hands with soap and water, or use a hand sanitizer, often throughout the day, especially before eating
  • Sanitize common surfaces in common living areas (bathroom fixtures, counters, doorknobs)
  • Don’t share things like utensils, hand towels, etc.
  • Avoid close contact with anyone who is actively experiencing symptoms of gastroenteritis

Call the health services at any time with questions or concerns!

Mayo Clinic Viral gastroenteritis (stomach flu)