Viral Gastroenteritis

Gastroenteritis is a common bacterial infection that causes diarrhoea and vomiting - it affects 1 in 5 people in the UK each year of all ages.

This infection can be easily spread from person to person through close contact, such as shaking hands or hugging someone who has the virus. It can also be picked up from contaminated objects, including food and drinks.


There are 2 main strands of Gastroenteritis: Norovirus and Rotavirus. Both of these viruses exhibit similar symptoms and are managed the same way.

The main symptoms a person will experience from a Gastroenteritis infection are diarrhoea and vomiting, however they may also experience:

  • feeling of nausea
  • a mild fever
  • increased exhaustion 
  • loss of appetite
  • aching limbs
  • headaches

Symptoms are similar for children, but they become less active. Symptoms should clear up within a week, but it can vary from person to person.

Everyone is at risk of catching Gastroenteritis, however there are people that are more susceptible to Gastroenteritis.

These include:

  • young children
  • older adults
  • staff and residents of care and residential homes
  • school children 
  • school children who stay in dormitories
  • those who are immunocompromised (weakened immune system)

How to treat

A person with a Gastroenteritis is most infectious for 2 days after the illness begins. Symptoms should clear up within a week.

Steps that can be taken to help recover are to:

  • stay at home for 2 days - if a fever persists past 2 days, remain at home until well
  • drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration
  • eat when able to
  • take regular pain relief such as paracetamol or ibuprofen

Additional steps for babies:

  • give babies on formula or solid food small sips of water between feeds
  • if the baby is being breast or bottle fed, try giving them smaller feeds more often, if they are being sick

Advice can also be sought out from 111 if:

  • there is worry about a baby under 12 months
  • a child stops feeding whilst parent is ill
  • there are signs of dehydration in adult or child
  • an adult or child has bloody diarrhoea
  • an adult or child has diarrhoea for more than 7 days or vomiting for more than 2 days


Good hygiene is important to help prevent the spread of Gastroenteritis - this includes:

  • regularly washing hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub
  • washing clothing and bedding on a hot wash to remove any vomit or poo
  • cleaning and disinfecting surfaces regularly, ensuring toilets, handles and taps are thoroughly cleaned
  • avoiding sharing towels, flannels, cutlery or any other shared items
  • not preparing food and drinks for others if you are ill
  • practicing good food hygiene – ensure food is properly refrigerated, cook food thoroughly, never eat food past its use by date
  • staying at home until you feel well

Children aged from 2 to 3 months can have the rotavirus vaccine which helps reduce the risk of developing Gastroenteritis.

Further information

Last updated 11 October 2022