Intestinal flu



The intestinal flu, also called viral gastroenteritis, is a "viral infection characterized by watery diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea or vomiting, and sometimes fever.

The most common way to become infected is through contact with an infected person or by ingesting contaminated food or water (via the fecal-oral route).

Under normal conditions it heals spontaneously after a few days. In the case of children, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems, viral gastroenteritis can cause serious complications.

Currently there is no effective cure for intestinal flu, so much so that prevention is the best solution to fight it. Scrupulously following the hygiene rules, washing hands often and carefully, washing fruit and vegetables thoroughly, are effective in reducing the risk of infection.


The intestinal flu affects the intestines, causing disorders such as:

  • bloodless watery diarrhea, if blood is present, several, often more serious, causes are suspected
  • abdominal cramps and pain
  • nausea and / or vomiting
  • body aches, headaches and fever, in some cases

Disorders can appear within 1-3 days of infection and can range from mild to severe. They usually last a day or two, but can sometimes persist for up to 10 days.

Viral diarrhea can be confused with diarrhea caused by bacteria or parasites, and only laboratory tests can ascertain the cause of the ailments.


Transmission occurs by direct contact or by sharing utensils, cutlery, towels, or food with a person who has an infection. Ingestion of contaminated food or water can also cause infection. Foods to watch out for there are shellfish, in particular raw or undercooked oysters, berries, fresh or frozen strawberries. Even the water can sometimes be contaminated.

Viruses that can cause intestinal flu


They affect both children and adults and are the most common cause of food-borne gastroenteritis worldwide. In most cases, the infection is transmitted through contaminated food or water, but transmission from person to person or through contact with surfaces contaminated with feces or vomit of infected people (especially toilets if used by people with infection in progress and not properly cleaned).


It is the most common cause of viral gastroenteritis in very young children. Generally, the infection occurs via the fecal-oral route, through contact with sick children or with contaminated objects and putting fingers or objects in the mouth. The infection is more serious in infants and young children because it causes intense diarrhea that can lead to dehydration (reduction of fluids and blood volume in circulation). Adults with rotavirus infection often have no disorders (symptoms) but can spread the infection to other people. The rotavirus vaccine, effective in preventing infection, is available in Italy.


The intestinal flu is ascertained (diagnosed) by the doctor on the basis of the reported complaints and a thorough medical examination.Rapid stool examination can detect rotavirus or norovirus but not other viruses that cause gastroenteritis. In some cases, your doctor may order a stool sample to be tested to rule out a possible bacterial or parasitic infection.


In general, there is no specific drug therapy for viral gastroenteritis. Antibiotics are not indicated because they are not effective against viruses.

In most cases, people with intestinal flu get better on their own, without the need for specific medical treatment, replenishing the fluids and minerals lost with diarrhea and vomiting to prevent any dehydration. For information on over-the-counter drugs useful for relieving ailments, it is advisable to contact your doctor or pharmacist.

In the case of intestinal flu, in the acute phases it is not advisable to take solid foods because they could stimulate vomiting or diarrhea. It is preferable to take only liquids containing minerals and sugars. In the healing phase, when the appetite returns, one can, in general, resume eating normally even if episodes of diarrhea persist. In case of persistent diarrhea (more than 3 discharges a day for several consecutive days), stools with blood , intense vomiting or fever, you should contact your pediatrician or your doctor.


The best way to prevent the spread of intestinal infections includes:

  • vaccinating children against rotavirus, in Europe two different vaccines are available, to be administered by mouth (one in two and the other in three doses). The recommended doses (even in those born before term) at the following ages:
    in the case of two doses:
    • first dose from 6 weeks of age
    • second dose to be administered after a minimum interval of 4 weeks
    • completion of the vaccination course by 16 weeks of age, but in any case it must be completed by 24 weeks of age
    in the case of three doses:
    • first dose from 6 weeks of age, and no later than 12 weeks of age
    • minimum interval of 4 weeks for subsequent doses
    • completion of the cycle by 32 weeks of agehowever, it is preferable that all three doses are administered by 20-22 weeks of age
  • wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water, rub your hands vigorously for at least 20 seconds, remembering to wash your cuticles, nails and hand creases. Then rinse thoroughly. If there is no soap and water available, it is useful to bring disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer with you
  • keep personal items separate from those of other people, avoid sharing cutlery, glasses and plates. Use separate towels in the bathroom
  • avoid close contact with people with ongoing infection, if possible
  • frequently disinfect toilets (bathrooms) and hard surfaces, such as switches, taps and doorknobs in case of their use by infected people
  • check that the school environments have separate rooms for the lunch service and for changing nappies

When traveling to countries with poor sanitation, some general steps to reduce the risk of getting gastroenteritis include:

  • drink only well-preserved, bottled water
  • avoid drinks with ice, because it may have been produced with contaminated water
  • also use bottled water to brush your teeth
  • avoid raw foods, or that may have been manipulated
  • avoid undercooked meat and fish


The main complication due to intestinal flu is dehydration, which is a significant loss of fluids and essential salts and minerals due to intense and protracted diarrhea and / or vomiting.In this case it is necessary to replenish the losses through the intake of liquids and mineral salts.

Infants, the elderly and people with a weakened defense system (immune system) are at greater risk of dehydration. In some cases, hospitalization is required so that lost fluids can be replenished intravenously. Rarely, dehydration due to intestinal flu can lead to death.

Adults should contact their doctor if they have:

  • intense diarrhea for several days in a row, with 3 or more discharges per day
  • vomiting for more than two days
  • vomiting with blood
  • signs of dehydration:
    • excessive thirst
    • dry mouth
    • absence of urine, or scanty, dark-colored urine
    • strong weakness, dizziness or sleepiness
  • ​​blood in the stool
  • fever above 38 degrees

In the case of infants and children, the pediatrician should be contacted in case of:

  • fever of 38.9 degrees or higher
  • excessive sleepiness, inactivity or irritability
  • discomfort or pain
  • blood in the stool
  • severe dehydration (lack of tears and sweating, lack of urine or production of small amounts of dark yellow urine, excessive dryness of the mouth and all mucous membranes, dry and lacking elasticity skin)

It is advisable to call the pediatrician immediately if the child:

  • vomits for several hours
  • she hasn't wetted her diaper for six hours
  • have bloody stools or severe diarrhea
  • has sunken eyes and, in the case of a newborn, has a depressed fontanel
  • have a dry mouth or cry without tears
  • is unusually sleepy or does not react to stimuli


Mayo Clinic. Viral gastroenteritis (stomach flu) (English)

NIH - National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). Viral Gastroenteritis ("Stomach Flu") (English)

Italian Society of Hygiene, Preventive Medicine and Public Health. Rotavirus vaccine

Further links

Ministry of Health.Infectious diseases

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