What is Viral Gastroenteritis?

Viral gastroenteritis (also called gastroenteritis or the stomach bug) is an infection that affects the stomach and intestines.

What Causes Gastroenteritis?

There are many viruses (germs) that cause gastroenteritis. Some of the common viruses are called norovirus, enterovirus and rotavirus.

What Are the Symptoms of Gastroenteritis?

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Fever or chills
  • Stomach pain

Can Others Catch Gastroenteritis?

Yes. Others can catch gastroenteritis. It is spread when a sick person gets the virus on their hands and touches a surface that others touch often, such as a door knob. It can also be spread when a sick person touches someone else’s food or drink.

When Will My Child Start To Feel Better?

The vomiting usually stops within 1-2 days. The diarrhea usually stops after 2-7 days.

How Do I Care For My Child While They Recover?

Medications

  • There are no medications to cure gastroenteritis. The symptoms will pass on their own. It is most important to make sure your child drinks plenty of fluids.
  • If your child has a fever or stomach pain, give them acetaminophen (Tylenol®).
  • Do not give your child ibuprofen (Motrin® or Advil®). Ibuprofen can upset your child’s stomach more.
  • Your child’s doctor may prescribe an anti-nausea medication called Zofran® to help stop vomiting.

Rest and fluids

  • Make sure your child gets plenty of fluids. Give small sips throughout the day. Sports drinks, Pedialyte®, Infalyte® or Rehydralyte® are helpful. They have a good mix of sugar, salt and minerals to keep your child hydrated. Buy these drinks at the grocery store or drug store.
  • Give your child small sips of fluids or broth throughout the day. Give 1-2 teaspoons (small spoonfuls) of fluid every 10 minutes. For babies, offer fluids on a small spoon or syringe. Older children can use a cup.
  • Keep your child home from daycare or school until the diarrhea stops. This can help prevent germs from spreading.
  • Wash your hands and your child’s hands with soap and water often. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers will not help kill the germs that cause gastroenteritis.

When Should My Child See The Doctor?

Call the doctor if your child has any of these symptoms:

  • Vomiting more than 3 times a day
  • Cannot drink fluids by mouth
  • In babies, no wet diapers for 6 hours or more
  • In children, urinating less than usual
  • Acting very tired or sleepy
  • Vomit with blood (red blood or blood that looks like coffee ground)
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Severe (very bad) belly pain
  • Eyes that look sunken into the face
  • Dry mouth or dry eyes

Can I Give My Child Anti-Diarrhea Medications?

No. Do not give your child medications to stop his diarrhea. Medications like loperamide (Imodium®) or bismuth subsalicyclate (Pepto-Bismol®) can make the illness last longer.

The most important thing you can do is make sure your child gets plenty of fluids so they do not get dehydrated.

My Child Is Not Hungry. Is That Normal?

Yes. It is normal if your child is not hungry while they are sick. If your child wants to eat, you can start with small amounts of foods. Do not give your child food with lots of fat and avoid sugary foods.

Rev. 5/2020. MassGeneral Hospital for Children and Massachusetts General Hospital do not endorse any of the brands listed on this handout. This handout is intended to provide health information so that you can be better informed. It is not a substitute for medical advice and should not be used to treatment of any medical conditions.