CausesBy Mayo Clinic staff
You're most likely to contract viral gastroenteritis when you eat or drink contaminated food or water, or if you share utensils, towels or food with someone who's infected.
Viruses that can cause gastroenteritis include:
- Rotavirus. Children are usually infected when they put their fingers or other objects contaminated with the virus into their mouths. Adults infected with rotavirus may not have symptoms, but can still spread the illness — of particular concern in institutional settings because infected adults unknowingly can pass the virus along to others. Some people, particularly those in institutional settings, may spread the virus even though they don't have any symptoms of illness themselves. A vaccine against rotaviral gastroenteritis is available in some countries, including the United States, and appears to be effective in preventing severe symptoms.
- Noroviruses. Both children and adults are affected by noroviruses. Norovirus infection can sweep through families and communities. It's especially likely to spread among people in confined spaces. In most cases you pick up the virus from contaminated food or water, although person-to-person transmission also is possible.
Some shellfish, especially raw or undercooked oysters, also can make you sick. Contaminated drinking water is another cause of viral diarrhea. But in many cases, the virus is passed through the fecal-oral route — that is, someone with the virus handles food you eat without washing his or her hands after using the toilet.
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