What is Astrovirus?

What is Astrovirus

If you are experiencing nausea, stomach ache, fever, diarrhea and other symptoms of gastroenteritis, then you might have astrovirus.

Although this virus is not considered a threat in healthy adults and children, it can lead to more severe illnesses in people or kids with weak immune systems. Also, there are no current vaccines or antiviral treatments for this infection.

What is Astrovirus?

Astrovirus is a non-enveloped RNA virus. This type of virus causes gastroenteritis (intestinal infection related to diarrhea) or stomach flu. Its symptoms are similar to norovirus, calicivirus and rotavirus, but it’s less severe than the aforementioned viruses. 

Non-enveloped viruses like the astrovirus are more resistant to dryness, heat, extreme pH and disinfectants. They are also more virulent compared to enveloped viruses.

It’s named astrovirus because of its resemblance to a star when viewed under a microscope. There are several kinds of astrovirus and they are also found in other animals like birds, dogs, pigs, and bats.

In 2015, there were 2 billion gastroenteritis cases and 1.3 million deaths caused by astrovirus globally. The statistics are higher in developing countries but everyone can be affected by the virus.

The interesting thing about astrovirus is that it doesn’t kill the cell but it wreaks havoc by disrupting and probably breaking apart epithelial barriers. Epithelial barriers protect the cells in the intestines and the gut. They keep foreign bodies out as well as keep the food tucked safely inside the digestive system. 

One of the things the astrovirus infection does is increase epithelial barrier permeability. It weakens the epithelial barrier in the gut and surrounding tissues.

Healthy individuals who contracted the virus rarely need hospitalization. However, never take astrovirus lightly as there are still cases where common astrovirus can lead to more serious health complications.

How Do You Get Astrovirus?

What is Astrovirus
The infection is transmitted via the fecal-oral route, but it can also be contracted in crowded areas. (Photo by Cameron Casey)

The infection is transmitted via the fecal-oral route. However, it can be transmitted through food, water, and poor sanitation. It’s also possible for people to get the virus through contact with infected surfaces or objects.

Animals found infected with astrovirus can also transmit it.

What Causes Astrovirus?

Astroviruses are a common virus that can make people sick at any time of year, especially in places where sanitation is limited or if there’s crowding. 

This infection tends to circulate more frequently during specific seasons – winter and springtime, for instance, in parts of the world where there’s a temperate climate and is more common during the rainy seasons in places where tropical climates exist.

What are the Symptoms of Astrovirus?

what is astrovirus
Image by Cottonbro

Gastroenteritis is most commonly caused by astrovirus. However, compared to rotavirus and norovirus, the symptoms are usually mild. 

Astrovirus manifests within 2-3 days post-infection and lasts for 2-3 days. Symptoms include the following:

  • Mild diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Stomach ache
  • Abdominal cramps

Note that a person who doesn’t show any symptoms but is still affected by astrovirus can still spread it to others and be a carrier.

How is Astrovirus Diagnosed?

For diagnosis, you will have to go through a physical exam and a medical professional would have to review your medical history as well as blood or stool samples that are sent off in order to rule out other possible causes of these symptoms (e.g., bacterial infections). 

Your physician might also choose to treat you presumptively or give you medicine before a specific diagnosis if they think this will help reduce risk factors associated with the virus and if the symptoms are mild.

You might need to undergo the following tests:

  • Polymerase chain reaction or PCR tests. It checks the astrovirus in your stool.
  • Enzyme-linked immunosorbent or EIA. A blood test to check your antibodies.
  • Stool examination. This test is able to detect astrovirus in your blood.

Is Astrovirus Serious?

Astrovirus is a very small and sneaky virus. 

Once you become infected with it, the particles will continue coming out through your feces for weeks or even months after becoming symptom-free. Even if you’re finally symptom-free, you can still be a carrier and spread this disease through contact in public places until you’re fully recovered.

This highly contagious illness has been known to cause stomach aches along with lasting side effects such as low-grade fever; however mild symptoms usually last less than two weeks.

To help avoid risks of astrovirus infection or spreading it, always do the following:

  • Practice good handwashing habits
  • Always have good hygiene practices
  • Avoid handling or preparing food if you think you have the virus
  • Avoid living or working with others in confined spaces
  • Always drink your vitamins
  • Have a healthy balanced diet as well as a healthy lifestyle to strengthen immunity

Although far less risky than COVID-19, infected people can apply the coronavirus protocol (such as social distancing and handwashing) to prevent the further spread of astrovirus. People who are malnourished are at high risk of contracting astrovirus. Make sure that you provide yourself or your child with the proper nutrition as well as vitamins and minerals needed to fight infectious diseases.

How Astrovirus Affects Your Central Nervous System

Although some healthy individuals can recover from the virus without getting hospitalized, adults and children with immunosuppressive conditions or poor immune systems may not recover as fast. In fact, it can lead to more serious problems such as brain infections.

A type of astrovirus known as VA or HMO can do this. Animals who have been affected by the astrovirus VA/HMO type infections have been mostly associated with meningitis or encephalitis.

Research is still being done on identifying treatments for astrovirus.

How Do You Treat or Get Rid of Astrovirus?

astrovirus treatment prevention cure
Photo by Karolina Grabowska

Antibiotics won’t be able to treat the virus itself. Any kind of treatment will be focused on alleviating the symptoms like nausea or diarrhea. Unlike other viral diseases like flu, there’s no vaccine that can prevent the infection.

Here are some things you can do to avoid spreading or contracting the virus:

  • Don’t share utensils or glasses with other people.
  • Stay at home if you’re sick.
  • Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap or water for at least 2 minutes. Do this after using the bathroom.
  • Never handle food when you’re sick.
  • Always drink clean water.
  • Use disinfectants to clean rooms and surfaces.

When to Get Help

Astroviruses can range from mild to severe. While most healthy people can recover within a week, you should always seek medical attention if you’re experiencing any symptoms. Getting professional help will help you avoid any kind of infection and minimize the risk of severe complications.

Prevention is key. Always practice good hygiene and healthy nutrition. Having a strong immune system can help you save more money and prevent the virus from spreading to other people.

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