Stomach flu, also known as gastroenteritis, or gastric flu is an infection that causes inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. This affects the stomach and the intestines and although it is a viral infection, the stomach flu should not be confused with influenza.
Causes and Symptoms of Stomach Flu
Stomach viruses are highly contagious and can spread by coming into contact with an infected person or contaminated products like food, beverages and bodily fluids. Often called a family affair, the stomach flu tends to spread among the whole household once one person is infected.
Public places like schools, daycare centers, restaurants and organizations handling food are common starting points for the stomach flu.
There are three kinds of viruses that cause the stomach virus:
Commonly seen in children under the age of 2, this strain attacks the infant’s gastrointestinal tract to cause diarrhea and vomiting. The symptoms may appear a week after the initial exposure and may recur annually in some.
This strain is also common in infants, children and the elderly and may show symptoms within the first three days of initial exposure. It may occur more during the winter.
Caliciviruses affect people of all ages and can be further categorized into:
- Norovirus: This is one of the main culprits for stomach virus outbreaks that occur during the months of October through April. Its symptoms usually appear within three days of exposure.
- Rotavirus: This strain impacts infants between the ages of 3-15 months and children under the age of 5. The symptoms appear within the first two days of exposure and include watery diarrhea and vomiting, fever and occasional abdominal pain. It is highly contagious and can easily spread to adult caretakers and those in close contact with the infected child. The symptoms may be milder in adults.
Stomach flu usually lasts from two to five days but can last for up to 10 days if the infection is severe.
Common symptoms include:
- Abdominal cramps
- Mild fever
Diagnosis and Treatment of Stomach Flu
The stomach flu may resolve on its own, however, it is recommended to call a doctor if:
- The body can’t keep liquids and solids in for 24 hours or more
- There are traces of blood in vomit or feces
- You have a swollen stomach
- You’re dehydrated
- You have a fever higher than 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 Celcius)
Doctors base their diagnosis of a stomach virus based on a physical examination, symptoms, blood and stool samples and a complete medical history. A stool test can also determine the presence of the rotavirus.
The treatment of stomach flu focuses on alleviating the symptoms, discomfort and pain and can involve:
- Switching to a liquid diet and avoiding solid foods for a few hours as soon as the symptoms start
- Banana, rice, applesauce and toast (BRAT) diet that helps reintroduce easily digestible soft and mild foods after being on a liquid diet.
- Electrolyte replacement with small sips of Pedialyte or diluted Gatorade at frequent intervals
- Resting to retain and regain energy
- Avoiding irritants like dairy, caffeine, alcohol, fried or spicy foods and carbonated or sugary drinks.
Natural and homeopathic remedies can also help alleviate the symptoms without the risk of harmful side effects and the following are recommended:
- Ginger root in a powder or tea form
- Peppermint to relieve hyperacidity and bloating
- Chamomile to ease symptoms like nausea, cramping and bloating
- Homeopathic remedies like arsenicum, podophyllum and ipecacuanha
- Probiotic supplements
- Yoga poses like the cobra pose, hero pose and bound angle pose may improve digestion and relieve certain symptoms
Prevention is key for the stomach flu because there is no potential treatment. Some tips for preventing the onset or spread of the stomach flu are:
- Washing your hands frequently
- Not sharing cooking utensils or food with infected individuals
- Staying away from infected individuals
- Keeping surroundings clean and disinfected
- Being cautious when traveling to areas where the condition is prevalent
The stomach flu is one of the most common illnesses seen in children and adults and while it does not pose a major threat, it is advisable to try and prevent an onset or spreading the disease.
The content of this Website is for informational purposes only, is general in nature and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, and does not constitute professional advice. The information on this Website should not be considered as complete and does not cover all diseases, ailments, physical conditions, or their treatment. You should consult with your physician before beginning any exercise, weight loss, or health care program and/or any of the beauty treatments.
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