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Viral Gastroenteritis Workup

  • Author: Michael Vincent F Tablang, MD; Chief Editor: Julian Katz, MD  more...
Updated: Dec 14, 2014

Laboratory Studies

See the list below:

  • General laboratory evaluation
    • In most cases that fit the clinical features of viral gastroenteritis, lab tests are not indicated.
    • If bacterial or protozoal infection is suspected, stool studies for occult blood, WBC count, microscopy for protozoa, Clostridium difficile toxin, Giardia lamblia by enzyme immunoassay (EIA), or bacterial culture may be indicated.
    • Consider investigating patients with low-grade fever, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and extreme dehydration by evaluating serum electrolytes, urea, creatinine, amylase, CBC count, and abdominal imaging studies.
  • Diagnosis of rotavirus infection
    • Rapid antigen testing of the stool, either by EIA (>98% sensitivity and specificity) or latex agglutination tests (less sensitive and specific as compared to EIA), is used to aid in the diagnosis of rotavirus infection.
    • Expect antirotavirus antibodies (ie, immunoglobulin M, immunoglobulin A) to be excreted in the stool after the first day of illness. Antibody tests can remain positive for 10 days after primary infection and longer after reinfection; therefore, they can be used as an adjunct to diagnosis.
  • Diagnosis of calicivirus infection
    • In epidemics, save stool and emesis specimens for evaluation by public health officials. Polymerase chain reaction is valuable in both the outbreak setting and the sporadic case setting.
    • Researchers have cloned several of the caliciviruses and placed the genome in a baculovirus that produces unlimited amounts of recombinant calicivirus capsid protein. Enzyme immunoassays for serum antibody and stool antigen have been developed using this antigen source.
    • A modification to the polymerase chain reaction has allowed many of the different strains of caliciviruses to be recognized with just a few primers (broadly reactive reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction). These primers are directed at a region of the genome that is common to many of the strains of calicivirus. This has been an important tool for identifying caliciviruses as the most common cause of epidemic viral gastroenteritis.
    • Fecal viral concentration of norovirus correlates with duration of illness. As in most viral infections, active viral replication determines clinical disease. High fecal viral concentrations suggest the need for both aggressive fluid replacement and stringent infection control measures.[13]

In a systematic literature review, Lee et al used pooled data to calculate median incubation periods for astrovirus (4.5 days), norovirus genogroups I and II (1.2 days), sapovirus (1.7 days), and rotavirus (2.0 days).[14]

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Michael Vincent F Tablang, MD Resident Physician, Department of Internal Medicine, University of Connecticut Health Center

Michael Vincent F Tablang, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Physicians

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


George Y Wu, MD, PhD Professor, Department of Medicine, Director, Hepatology Section, Herman Lopata Chair in Hepatitis Research, University of Connecticut School of Medicine

George Y Wu, MD, PhD is a member of the following medical societies: American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases, American Gastroenterological Association, American Medical Association, American Society for Clinical Investigation, Association of American Physicians

Disclosure: Received consulting fee from Springer for consulting; Received consulting fee from Gilead for review panel membership; Received honoraria from Vertex for speaking and teaching; Received honoraria from Bristol-Myers Squibb for speaking and teaching; Received royalty from Springer for review panel membership; Received honoraria from Merck for speaking and teaching.

Michael J Grupka, MD Physician, Atlanta Center for Gastroenterology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Received salary from Medscape for employment. for: Medscape.

Noel Williams, MD, FRCPC FACP, MACG, Professor Emeritus, Department of Medicine, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada; Professor, Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Gastroenterology, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Noel Williams, MD, FRCPC is a member of the following medical societies: Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Julian Katz, MD Clinical Professor of Medicine, Drexel University College of Medicine

Julian Katz, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Gastroenterology, American College of Physicians, American Gastroenterological Association, American Geriatrics Society, American Medical Association, American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, American Society of Law, Medicine & Ethics, American Trauma Society, Association of American Medical Colleges, Physicians for Social Responsibility

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

John Gunn Lee, MD Director of Pancreaticobiliary Service, Associate Professor, Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Gastroenterology, University of California at Irvine School of Medicine

John Gunn Lee, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Gastroenterology, American College of Physicians, American Gastroenterological Association, American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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