Viral gastroenteritis is a common infection of the stomach and intestines that results in vomiting and diarrhoea. It can be caused by a number of different viruses, such as rotavirus and norovirus (previously known as Norwalk-like virus). There are many other causes of gastroenteritis including bacteria, toxins, parasites, and some non-infectious diseases.
The main symptoms of viral gastroenteritis are vomiting and watery diarrhoea. Other symptoms may include nausea, fever, abdominal pain, headache, and muscle aches. Dehydration can follow. Symptoms can take between one and three days to develop and usually last between one and two days, sometimes longer.
Viral gastroenteritis is highly infectious and is spread by the vomit or faeces of an infected person through:
Infection may also be spread through aerosolised particles when people vomit.
In most cases, spread occurs from a person who has symptoms. Some people can pass on the infection without symptoms, particularly in the first 48 hours after recovery.
Viral gastroenteritis can affect people of all ages.
After using the toilet, changing nappies, and before eating or preparing food, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and running water for at least 10 seconds and dry them with a clean towel.
A diagnosis of viral gastroenteritis is usually based on the person's symptoms. Laboratory confirmation is important during outbreaks, and involves testing samples of stool (faeces).
There is no specific treatment for viral gastroenteritis except rest and drinking plenty of fluids. Most people will recover without complications. However, viral gastroenteritis can be serious infants, people with suppressed immune systems and the elderly.
People with vomiting or diarrhoea should:
People caring for those with gastroenteritis should wash hands thoroughly with soap and running water after any contact with the sick person. Cleaning soiled surfaces and clothing reduces further spread of the virus.
When cleaning up vomit or faeces:
Outbreaks of viral gastroenteritis increase in winter and are common within families and group settings including nursing homes, hospitals, childcare centres, and schools. Doctors and hospitals are required to notify their local public health unit whenever there are at least two cases of gastroenteritis that are linked.
Public health units are able to:
For further information call your local Public Health Unit on 1300 066 055.