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Viral gastroenteritis

  • Alternative Names

    Rotavirus infection; Norwalk virus; Gastroenteritis - viral; Stomach flu


    The goal of treatment is to prevent dehydration by making sure the body has as much water and fluids as it should. Fluids and electrolytes (salt and minerals) lost through diarrhea or vomiting must be replaced by drinking extra fluids. Even if you are able to eat, you should still drink extra fluids between meals.

    • Older children and adults can drink sports beverages such as Gatorade, but these should not be used for children. Instead, use the electrolyte and fluid replacement solutions or freezer pops available in food and drug stores.
    • Do NOT use fruit juice (including apple juice), sodas or cola (flat or bubbly), Jell-O, or broth. All of these have a lot of sugar, which makes diarrhea worse, and they don't replace lost minerals.
    • Drink small amounts of fluid (2-4 oz.) every 30-60 minutes, rather than trying to force large amounts at one time, which can cause vomiting. Use a teaspoon or syringe for an infant or small child.
    • Breast milk or formula can be continued along with extra fluids. You do NOT need to switch to a soy formula.

    Food may be offered frequently in small amounts. Suggested foods include:

    • Cereals, bread, potatoes, lean meats
    • Plain yogurt, bananas, fresh apples
    • Vegetables

    People with diarrhea who are unable to drink fluids because of nausea may need intravenous (directly into a vein) fluids. This is especially true in small children.

    Antibiotics do not work for viruses.

    Drugs to slow down the amount of diarrhea (anti-diarrheal medications) should not be given without first talking with your health care provider. They may cause the infection to last longer. DO NOT give these anti-diarrheal medications to children unless directed to do so by a health care provider.

    People taking water pills (diuretics) who develop diarrhea may be told by their health care provider to stop taking the diuretic during the acute episode. However, DO NOT stop taking any prescription medicine without first talking to your doctor.

    The risk of dehydration is greatest in infants and young children, so parents should closely monitor the number of wet diapers changed per day when their child is sick.

    Support Groups

    Expectations (prognosis)

    Most infections will go away on their own. Children may become severely ill from dehydration caused by diarrhea.


    Rotavirus causes severe gastroenteritis in infants and young children. Severe dehydration and death can occur in this age group.

    Calling your health care provider

    Call your health care provider if diarrhea persists for more than several days or if dehydration occurs. You should also contact your doctor if you or your child has these symptoms:

    • Blood in the stool
    • Confusion
    • Dizziness
    • Dry mouth
    • Feeling faint
    • Nausea
    • No tears when crying
    • No urine for 8 hours or more
    • Sunken appearance to the eyes
    • Sunken soft spot on an infant's head (fontanelle)