Viral Gastroenteritis (Adult)

Gastroenteritis is commonly called the "stomach flu," although it has nothing to do with influenza. It is most often caused by a virus that affects the stomach and intestinal tract and usually lasts from 2 to 7 days. Common viruses causing gastroenteritis include norovirus, rotavirus, and hepatitis A. Non-viral causes of gastroenteritis include bacteria, parasites, and toxins.

The danger from repeated vomiting or diarrhea is dehydration. This is the loss of too much fluid from the body. When this occurs, body fluids must be replaced. Antibiotics don't help with this illness because it is usually viral. Simple home treatment will be helpful.

Symptoms of viral gastroenteritis may include:

  • Watery, loose stools

  • Stomach pain or abdominal cramps

  • Fever and chills

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Loss of bowel control

  • Headache

Home care

Gastroenteritis is transmitted by contact with the stool or vomit of an infected person. This can occur from person to person or from contact with a contaminated surface.

Follow these guidelines when caring for yourself at home:

  • If symptoms are severe, rest at home for the next 24 hours or until you are feeling better.

  • Wash your hands with soap and water or use alcohol-based sanitizer to prevent the spread of infection. Wash your hands after touching anyone who is sick.

  • Wash your hands or use alcohol-based sanitizer after using the toilet and before meals. Clean the toilet after each use.

Remember these tips when preparing food:

  • People with diarrhea should not prepare or serve food to others. When preparing foods, wash your hands before and after.

  • Wash your hands after using cutting boards, countertops, knives, or utensils that have been in contact with raw food.

  • Dry your hands with a single use towel.

  • Keep uncooked meats away from cooked and ready-to-eat foods.


You may use acetaminophen or NSAID medicines like ibuprofen or naproxen to control fever unless another medicine was given. If you have chronic liver or kidney disease, talk with your healthcare provider before using these medicines. Also talk with your provider if you've had a stomach ulcer or gastrointestinal bleeding. Don't give aspirin to anyone under 18 years of age who is ill with a fever. It may cause severe liver damage. Don't use NSAIDS is you are already taking one for another condition (like arthritis) or are on aspirin (such as for heart disease or after a stroke).

If medicine for vomiting or diarrhea are prescribed, take these only as directed. Nausea and diarrhea medicines are generally OK unless you have bleeding, fever, or severe abdominal pain.


Follow these guidelines for food:

  • Water and liquids are important so you don't get dehydrated. Drink a small amount at a time or suck on ice chips if you are vomiting.

  • If you eat, avoid fatty, greasy, spicy, or fried foods.

  • Don't eat dairy if you have diarrhea. This can make diarrhea worse.

  • Avoid tobacco, alcohol, and caffeine which may worsen symptoms.

During the first 24 hours (the first full day), follow the diet below:

  • Beverages. Sports drinks, soft drinks without caffeine, ginger ale, mineral water (plain or flavored), decaffeinated tea and coffee. If you are very dehydrated, sports drinks aren't a good choice. They have too much sugar and not enough electrolytes. In this case, commercially available products called oral rehydration solutions, are best.

  • Soups. Eat clear broth, consommé, and bouillon.

  • Desserts. Eat gelatin, ice pops, and fruit juice bars.

During the next 24 hours (the second day), you may add the following to the above:

  • Hot cereal, plain toast, bread, rolls, and crackers

  • Plain noodles, rice, mashed potatoes, chicken noodle or rice soup

  • Unsweetened canned fruit (avoid pineapple), bananas

  • Limit fat intake to less than 15 grams per day. Do this by avoiding margarine, butter, oils, mayonnaise, sauces, gravies, fried foods, peanut butter, meat, poultry, and fish.

  • Limit fiber and avoid raw or cooked vegetables, fresh fruits (except bananas), and bran cereals.

  • Limit caffeine and chocolate. Don't use spices or seasonings other than salt.

  • Limit dairy products.

  • Avoid alcohol.

During the next 24 hours:

  • Gradually resume a normal diet as you feel better and your symptoms improve.

  • If at any time it starts getting worse again, go back to clear liquids until you feel better.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised. Call your provider if you don't get better within 24 hours or if diarrhea lasts more than a week. Also follow up if you are unable to keep down liquids and get dehydrated. If a stool (diarrhea) sample was taken, call as directed for the results.

Call 911

Call 911 if any of these occur:

  • Trouble breathing

  • Chest pain

  • Confused

  • Severe drowsiness or trouble awakening

  • Fainting or loss of consciousness

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Seizure

  • Stiff neck

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Abdominal pain that gets worse

  • Continued vomiting (unable to keep liquids down)

  • Frequent diarrhea (more than 5 times a day)

  • Blood in vomit or stool (black or red color)

  • Dark urine, reduced urine output, or extreme thirst

  • Weakness or dizziness

  • Drowsiness

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by your healthcare provider

  • New rash

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