Outbreaks of gastroenteritis in schools and daycares are not uncommon. Viruses cause most outbreaks of gastroenteritis, and almost always are transmitted person-to-person, by contaminated surfaces or, occasionally, by contaminated food. These outbreaks can be detected early by recognizing the typical symptoms of illness and can be controlled by taking specific steps to prevent the virus from being transmitted person-to-person.
What causes viral gastroenteritis?
Many different viruses can cause gastroenteritis, including rotaviruses and noroviruses; however, noroviruses are the cause of the majority of these outbreaks. Although the symptoms may be similar, viral gastroenteritis is not caused by bacteria (such as Salmonella or E. coli), parasites (such as Giardia), medications or other medical conditions.
Noroviruses are a group of viruses that cause gastroenteritis [gas-trō-en-ter-ī-tis] in people. Gastroenteritis is an inflammation of the lining of the stomach and intestines, causing an acute onset of severe vomiting and diarrhea. Norovirus illness is usually brief in people who are otherwise healthy. Young children, the elderly, and people with other medical illnesses are most at risk for more severe or prolonged infection. Like all viral infections, noroviruses are not affected by treatment with antibiotics. Norovirus infections spread very rapidly. Healthcare facilities and other institutional settings (e.g., daycare centers, schools, etc.) are particularly at-risk for outbreaks because of increased person-to-person contact.