Viral Gastroenteritis

Viral Gastroenteritis -- Stop Spreading Germs banner

Viral gastrointestinal illness (sometimes called "winter vomiting illness") occurs every year, typically in winter months.  It is highly contagious and people should take steps to avoid contracting the illness.

What is Viral Gastroenteritis?

  • Viral gastroenteritis is a common cause of vomiting and diarrhea.
  • The viruses that cause gastroenteritis (including norovirus) are very contagious and are spread through contact with infected persons or contaminated surfaces.
  • Individuals may also become infected by eating or drinking contaminated foods or beverages.

Learn more about Norovirus from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

How to Prevent the Spread of Viral Gastroenteritis

1.  Wash Hands

  • It is important to wash hands often with soap and warm water, especially after using the bathroom, before preparing food, before eating, and after any episodes of vomiting or diarrhea.
  • Learn the proper way to wash hands.

2.  Stay Home When Sick

  • To avoid spreading disease, anyone who is sick with vomiting and diarrhea should stay at home and away from others until symptom-free for at least 24 hours. 
  • Adults and children should not go to work, school, school functions, sporting or extracurricular activities, or leave the home except to seek medical care. 
  • Children who are sent home from school with vomiting or diarrhea should not return to school the following day—even if they are feeling better—since they may still spread the disease. 

3.  Clean and Disinfect Contaminated Surfaces and Clothing

  • After episodes of vomiting or diarrhea, immediately clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces with a bleach-based household cleaner.
  • Immediately wash and machine dry clothing or linens that are contaminated with vomit or fecal matter.

Symptoms of Viral Gastroenteritis

  • The main symptoms of viral gastroenteritis are watery diarrhea and vomiting, but may also include headache, fever, and abdominal cramps. 
  • While the symptoms can be unpleasant, viral gastroenteritis is usually not serious and the vast majority of people recover in one or two days.
  • The very young, the elderly, and those with immune system problems are more likely to develop serious illness. 

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