Symptoms: This disease is also known as the stomach flu, attacking the digestive track – as opposed to the traditional flu which attacks the respiratory system. Symptoms include watery, non-bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramping and severe abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, muscle aches, headache and possibly a low grade fever.
Causes: Viral gastroenteritis is contagious and is spread through contact with shared utensils, towels or food with someone who is a infected with the virus. Viral gastroenteritis can also be contracted from eating and drinking contaminated food or water. Shellfish, especially oysters that are raw or undercooked can be contaminated with the virus that causes gastroenteritis.
Two viruses that commonly cause gastroenteritis are the rotavirus and the group of noroviruses
Rotavirus is the number one cause of infectious diarrhea in infants and children. It is one of the leading causes of death in children who do not have access to adequate clean water and medical treatment. Thousands of children will be hospitalized with complications from viral gastroenteritis each year. A child is likely to develop gastroenteritis from rotavirus at least one time before their third birthday. Children who are at the age when everything goes into their mouths are most susceptible. A small amount of rotavirus can cause serious complications. Adults who are infected with this virus usually do not display any symptoms, but can still be contagious. A person may be responsible for spreading the disease in schools or institutions, and never have any symptoms. There is a vaccine for rotavirus that is available in the United States.
Noroviruses have many different strains, including the Norwalk virus. All of these viruses cause very similar signs and symptoms in the patient. Ninety percent of gastroenteritis outbreaks in the United States are caused by noroviruses. A norovirus can rapidly move through an entire family infecting everyone. It is most likely contracted from contaminated food or water. With this virus, symptoms appear within 18 to 72 hours, with relief coming within a day or two. Even if symptoms disappear quickly a patient is contagious for at least three days after they’ve recovered and sometimes even up to three weeks.
Patients who have HIV/AIDS are particularly susceptible to cytomegalovirus (CMV). People with typical immune systems are hardly ever affected by CMV, but it can be extremely harmful to AIDS patients. CMV can cause blindness, weakness and numbing of the legs. CMV is highly contagious, as with all other viruses, the key to prevention is often and thorough hand washing, condoms during sexual activity and regular screening and testing.
Diagnosis: Diagnosis for gastroenteritis is usually made from the symptoms. By the time a person can get to the doctor the symptoms have usually become much better.
Treatment: There is no treatment for gastroenteritis; it has to simply run its course. If it is persistent, a stole test can determine the symptoms are caused by a bacterial or parasitic infection – then treatment will be for another disease. Re-hydration is important – especially in children. Fluids that replace salts and minerals in the body are useful, such as Gatorade or Propel. Make sure the fluid is approved by a physician before giving it to children or the elderly. Prevention is key for gastroenteritis, especially if a family member comes home from work or school with this disease. Prevention involves: isolating the infected family member, frequent hand washing, avoid sharing glasses, utensils, towels and snacking from another’s plate.