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Viral Gastroenteritis


Acute gastroenteritis is a common cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. Conservative estimates put diarrhea in the top 5 causes of deaths worldwide, with most occurring in young children in nonindustrialized countries. In industrialized countries, diarrheal diseases are a significant cause for morbidity across all age groups. Etiologies include bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins, and drugs. Viruses are responsible for a significant percentage of cases affecting patients of all ages; in the United States, viruses are the leading cause of acute gastroenteritis.
Viral gastroenteritis ranges from a self-limited watery diarrheal illness (usually <1 wk) associated with symptoms of nausea, vomiting, anorexia, malaise, or fever, to severe dehydration resulting in hospitalization or even death.

The clinician encounters acute viral gastroenteritis in 3 settings. The first is sporadic gastroenteritis in infants, which most frequently is caused by rotavirus.
The second is epidemic gastroenteritis, which occurs either in semiclosed communities (eg, families, institutions, ships, vacation spots) or as a result of classic food-borne or water-borne pathogens.
Most of these infections are caused by caliciviruses. The third is sporadic acute gastroenteritis of adults, which most likely is caused by caliciviruses, rotaviruses, astroviruses, or adenoviruses.

For patient education resources, see Digestive Disorders Center, as well as Gastroenteritis (Stomach Flu), Norovirus Infection, and Diarrhea.

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