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For further information, see CMDT Part 32-09: Viruses & Gastroenteritis

Key Features

  • Viruses are responsible for at least 30–40% of cases of infectious diarrhea in the United States

  • Agents include rotaviruses; caliciviruses, including noroviruses such as Norwalk virus; astroviruses; enteric adenoviruses; and, less often, toroviruses, coronaviruses, picornaviruses (including the Aichi virus), and pestiviruses

Clinical Findings

  • Rotaviruses

    • Leading cause of dehydrating gastroenteritis in young children

    • Usually mild and self-limiting

    • A 2- to 3-day prodrome of fever and vomiting is followed by nonbloody diarrhea (up to 10–20 bowel movements per day) lasting for 1–4 days

  • Noroviruses, such as Norwalk virus, are the major causes of severe diarrhea and recognized as the major cause of epidemic gastroenteritis

    • A short incubation period (24–48 hours)

    • Short symptomatic illness (12–60 hours)

    • High frequency (> 50%) of vomiting

    • Absence of bacterial pathogens in stool samples

    • Presence of antibodies is not associated with protection against reinfection


  • Rotaviruses: PCR of the stool is method of choice

  • Noroviruses: RT-PCR of stool samples is used for diagnostic and epidemiologic purposes


  • Rotaviruses

    • Treatment is symptomatic, with fluid and electrolyte replacement

    • Oral and intravenous rehydration solutions are the primary treatment options, but effective adjunctive therapies include specific probiotics (eg, Lactobacillus GG or Saccharomyces boulardii), nitazoxanide, diosmectite, or racecadotril

    • Local intestinal immunity gives protection against successive infection

    • Adjunctive therapies such as oral odansetron shorten the median duration of diarrhea and hospitalization

  • Noroviruses: Treatment is largely symptomatic

  • Prevention

    • Strict adherence to general hygienic measures

    • Cohorting of sick patients

    • Contact precautions for symptomatic hospitalized patients

    • Exclusion from work of symptomatic staff until symptom resolution (or 48–72 h after this for norovirus disease)

    • Proper decontamination procedures

    • An intranasally delivered norovirus particle vaccine has showed protection against infection with a homologous virus strain

  • Vaccines

    • Four oral, live, attenuated rotavirus vaccines are considered highly effective in preventing severe gastrointestinal disease and are available internationally and WHO prequalified

      • Rotari (derived from a single common strain of human rotavirus)

      • RotaTeq (a reassorted bovine-human rotavirus)

      • Rotavac (naturally occurring bovine-human reassortant neonatal G9P, also called 116E)

      • RotaSiil (bovine-human reassortant with human G1, G2, G3 and G4 bovine UK G6P[5] backbone)

    • Two oral rotavirus vaccines are available in the United States

      • RotaTeqa: a live, oral pentavalent human-bovine reassortment rotavirus vaccine; to be given at 2, 4, and 6 months of age

      • Rotarix: a live, oral attenuated human rotavirus vaccine; to be given at 2 and 4 months of age)

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