Stomach Flu – Medical And Natural Ways To Treat Viral Gastroenteritis
Are you experiencing nausea and vomiting, watery diarrhea and abdominal cramps? You might have developed a condition called stomach flu. The condition affects millions of people across the world. Let’s know everything about stomach flu and its various treatment options.
Stomach flu, also known as viral gastroenteritis is a condition marked by inflammation of the stomach and intestines. As denoted by the name, it is caused by any one of the various viruses spread through contamination.
Is stomach flu contagious?
The condition is highly contagious and can spread through close contact with infected people. It can also spread by consuming contaminated food and water or through sharing towels and utensils. Stomach flu can easily spread in close quarters such as schools, nursing homes, child care facilities, etc.
The incubation period i.e. the time between the exposure to the disease and start of symptoms is typically between 12-48 hours. The symptoms usually last 1-3 days, however, a person can take up to 10 days to recover from diarrhea.
Risk factors - Who gets stomach flu?
Viral gastroenteritis affects people of every age group, race, and background. Young children, especially under 5 years of age and older adults, are prone to this condition. Also, people who have weak immune system such as those suffering from HIV/AIDS or some other medical condition are vulnerable to stomach flu.
What causes stomach flu?
Different types of viruses are responsible for causing stomach flu. The most common among them is norovirus and rotavirus. These viruses spread through following ways:
- Washing hands improperly, especially by food handlers
- Consuming raw or undercooked foods
- Sewage water contamination
Below is mentioned about each virus, their medium of spreading along with symptoms.
It is a highly contagious virus and affects people of any age group. The virus enters the human body through contaminated food or water, close contact, and contaminated surfaces. Norovirus is extremely common in crowded places.
Symptoms – Affected person can experience nausea, fever, diarrhea and body aches. Most people with this virus will start feeling better within a couple of days after symptoms appear.
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This virus most commonly affects infants and young children. When the children are infected, they can further infect older children and adults. The virus typically spread through the mouth.
Symptoms – Within a couple of days of exposure to the virus, symptoms begin to appear. Some common symptoms include watery diarrhea, vomiting, and loss of appetite.
Rotavirus vaccination can prevent illnesses in infants and small children.
This virus too affects people of all age group but children between 6 months and 2 years are more at risk. Adenovirus is spread through air via coughing and sneezing or coming in contact with contaminated objects.
Symptoms – When infected with adenovirus, a person will experience fever, sore throat, coughing, running nose and pink eye. People experiencing symptoms will start feeling better within a few days. However, pink eye may take more time to heal.
Astrovirus is an important cause behind gastroenteritis in children around the world. The virus can spread from person to person and affects especially those who practice improper hygiene. The infected person starts feeling better within 2-3 days of symptoms.
Stomach flu vs food poisoning
Some people may think that food poisoning and stomach flu are similar conditions as they share same types of symptoms. But there are differences. The one major dissimilarity is the duration of illness. Where stomach flu lasts for up to 10 days, food poisoning can clear up within a couple of days.
Secondly, food poisoning is more common as compared to stomach flu. Sometimes other factors such as inflammatory bowel disease may resemble stomach flu. These include irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease and ulcerative colitis.
Certain medication including antibiotics and antacids containing magnesium may also cause similar symptoms. The best way is to consult a doctor if the symptoms don’t go away within 2-3 days.
Complications of stomach flu
If not timely treated, viral gastroenteritis can cause dehydration, which is the classic symptom. Dehydration can be serious in infants and young children. Other complications of stomach flu include imbalance in nutrition and muscle weakness.
Dehydration in some cases can be life-threatening. If you or your child is experiencing any of the symptoms below, call your doctor without delay. It could be sign of some other illness.
Signs of dehydration in infants and children:
- Diarrhea that lasts for than a few days
- Dry mouth
- Inability to produce tears
- Decreased urine output or no wet diapers for more than 3 hours
- Sunken eyes
- Excessive irritability
- Fever more than 101 degrees
- Severe abdominal pain
- Not playing or smiling for four hours or more
Signs of dehydration in older children and adults:
- Diarrhea that lasts for than a few days
- Blood in stool
- Nausea or vomiting
- Dark yellowish brown urine or no urine for more than eight hours
- Excessive thirst or dry mouth
How diagnosis is performed for stomach flu?
The doctor will be able to diagnose the condition based on your symptoms, medical history, and physical examination. To confirm the diagnosis, the doctor may order rapid stool test that will determine the type of virus causing stomach flu.
Stomach Problems - Foods to Eat and Not To Eat
Treating viral gastroenteritis
In most of the cases, there isn’t any specific treatment for viral gastroenteritis or treatment isn’t necessary. Antibiotics are not effective against viruses. The focus of the treatment lies in preventing dehydration that occurs from diarrhea and vomiting. Based on your case, you can get these things done before meeting the doctor:
- In case of vomiting, don’t try to eat or drink anything right away. Wait for at least 15 minutes to let your stomach settle down.
- Take an electrolyte drink or small amount of water every 5-10 minutes to replenish your body.
- If you are able to tolerate small amount of liquid, increase the amount steadily.
- Avoid drinking sodas or fruit juices.
- Try eating bland foods such as toast, bananas, and rice after several hours.
- Avoid greasy or spicy foods, dairy products and sugary foods.
- Ginger or peppermint solution can reduce inflammation.
Based on your conditions, some medications might be prescribed or available over the counter.
- In case of fever and aches, ibuprofen can be used but with caution as it can upset the stomach.
- Doctor may also prescribe antiemetic drugs such as metoclopramide or promethazine if you are experiencing nausea.
- For diarrhea, loperamide hydrochloride or oral subsalicylate can be prescribed. Both these medicines should not be given to children.
As stomach flu is a highly contagious disease, preventing it in first place is the best way to keep off the disease. Practice good handwashing and get your child vaccinated. Avoid sharing glasses, plates, towels and other utensils. Call your doctor if you are experiencing severe dehydration or your child is facing uneasiness.
1. Stomach Virus (Gastroenteritis) (2017, January 10). familydoctor read more
2. Viral Gastroenteritis (“Stomach Flu”) (2018, May). niddk read more
3. Viral gastroenteritis (stomach flu) (2016, November 05). MedlinePlus read more