Viral Gastroenteritis Care Sheet

Published April 6, 2017

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What is it?

Viral gastroenteritis is an inflammation of the stomach and intestines caused by one of any number of viruses. Also known as the stomach flu, viral gastroenteritis can affect anyone throughout the world. This highly contagious illness spreads through close contact with people who are infected.


Symptoms usually begin one or two days after infection and may include:

  • diarrhea
  • nausea and vomiting
  • headache, muscle aches, joint aches
  • fever, chills
  • sweating, clammy skin
  • abdominal cramps and pain
  • loss of appetite

Symptoms can last anywhere from one to 7 days. 

Self-care for viral gastroenteritis

Nausea and Vomiting

  • It’s important to prevent dehydration but you should wait at least 6 hours after vomiting before you attempt to drink anything.
  • Rest – activity worsens nausea and vomiting.
  • Avoid food odors.
  • Do not try to eat food at first.  Start with small sips of clear liquids – water, tea, broth, flat ginger ale (open can/bottle; allow to sit before drinking), fruit juices (but not acidic ones like orange or grapefruit), or Gatorade.  You can advance to gelatin or popsicles if tolerated.
  • Avoid drinks containing caffeine (coffee, energy drinks) or alcohol.
  •  If you are having trouble keeping anything down, try sucking on ice cubes/ice chips.
  • Once you are able to tolerate fluids, you may try to eat small amounts of simple foods – plain crackers, dry toast, plain pasta or rice.  Avoid foods which are spicy, greasy, high in fat or containing dairy.
  •  Progress to a normal diet over the next 24-48 hours.


  • Diarrhea causes your body to lose water; it is important to replace your fluids to prevent dehydration.
  • Drink plenty of fluids, including water, sports drinks (Gatorade), broth, juice (but not apple or pear).
  • Avoid caffeinated drinks and alcohol.
  • Add soft, bland, low-fiber foods to your diet such as plain rice or pasta, boiled potatoes, toast, crackers, baked chicken without the skin, eggs.
  • Avoid foods which are spicy, greasy, high in fiber or containing dairy.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly after using the bathroom.
  • OTC medications like Imodium AD may slow the diarrhea but won’t always speed your recovery.

For students, call Student Health Services if:

  • You have a severe headache associated with nausea/vomiting, especially if you haven’t had this type of headache before.
  • You are unable to drink anything for 12 hours or more.
  • Vomiting lasts longer than 2-3 days.
  • You vomit bloody or “coffee ground” material.
  • You have a temperature > 102 or signs of dehydration (dark urine, little or no urination, severe weakness, dizziness, excessive thirst).
  • You have severe abdominal or rectal pain.
  • You have bloody or black stools.
  • Your diarrhea lasts longer than 3 days.

How to stop the spread

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. Alcohol based hand cleaners also are effective.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Don’t share personal items.
  • Avoid getting close to people who are sick.  Stay 6 feet away from a sick person.
  • Wash surfaces on your work space with a disinfectant daily.
  • Wipe down keyboards and telephones often.

What about classes and other academic obligations?

Evaluate your obligations for the next week and where necessary contact your instructors/employers directly to appraise them of your situation and to arrange an appropriate accommodation – e.g., accessing course material electronically, excused attendance, submitting papers or other coursework via email, rescheduling a test, performing an alternative assignment, etc.

Does Student Health Services write medical notes for students who miss class?

Course instructors should not require medical documentation to validate a student’s illness or to return to work, as doctors’ offices and medical facilities (including Student Health Services) will be extremely busy and will not be able to provide such documentation in a timely way.  This echoes the existing UB excuse note policy.

University at Buffalo
Michael Hall, 3435 Main Street, South Campus
Buffalo, NY 14214

Phone: (716) 829-3316; Fax: (716) 829-2564