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Santé Montréal

Viral gastroenteritis

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Gastroenteritis, also referred to as ‘stomach flu’, is inflammation of the stomach and intestinal lining, which causes diarrhea and vomiting.

It can be caused by a virus, a bacteria or a parasite. Norovirus is the most common cause of gastroenteritis in adults. This virus circulates mainly in the fall and winter.

Did you know?

Viral gastroenteritis outbreaks occur every year in the Montréal region, as they do in the rest of Québec.

  • Most outbreaks are caused by noroviruses, which are easy to transmit from one person to another.
  • The yearly norovirus outbreaks tend to occur during the fall and winter, peaking around January.
  • These outbreaks can affect healthcare and educational environments as well as child care and food service facilities.
  • Prevention of these infections consists of proper hand-washing and thorough disinfection of contaminated environments.
  • There is no vaccine against norovirus infections.
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The main symptoms of gastroenteritis are the following:

  • Diarrhea: at least 3 liquid or semi-liquid stools every 24 hours or stool that is more abundant and frequent than usual
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Other symptoms may sometimes appear:

  • Mild fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain

The worst symptoms usually last only one to three days, after which the stools may continue to be liquid but gradually return to their normal frequency.

The virus in stools is highly contagious and remains in the stools up to two weeks after symptoms have disappeared.

People at risk

Even if gastroenteritis infections are generally considered benign, elderly people and patients in hospitals and residential and long-term care facilities who have chronic diseases (e.g. diabetes or heart, lung or kidney disease) are more likely to get seriously ill and are at higher risk of hospitalization, complications or death.

Newborns who are affected are at higher risk of dehydration and may need to be seen by a doctor or hospitalized.

Source : Qué

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When to Consult

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Hydrating, rehydrating and foods to eat when you have gastroenteritis

Most of the time, viral gastroenteritis is benign. But, it can also cause dehydration, which can be serious in older people and young children.

There is no specific treatment for viral gastroenteritis. To avoid dehydration, it is important to drink liquids: water with a bit of salt and sugar (or commercial products available in pharmacies), juice, clear broth or thicker soup, if tolerated.

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Protection and prevention

How is gastroenteritis spread?

Viruses that cause gastroenteritis spread by the fecal-oral route, especially through hands soiled with stool or vomit. People also catch some of these viruses by inhaling droplets sprayed into the air when someone vomits.

Adopt simple hygiene and preventive measures

To avoid contamination

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water
  • Use an antiseptic hand sanitizer if you don’t have access to soap and water
  • Regularly disinfect the toilet, surfaces and objects that could be soiled with vomit or stools
  • Don’t prepare meals for other people
  • Stay home

If you have symptoms of gastroenteritis

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Risk factors

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Help and Resources

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People at Risk

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Dernière mise à jour le : 2019.02.26