When stomach flu hits, it hits hard. The initial stages start with chills, fever, and nausea, which transition into vomiting, diarrhea, and severe aches and pains. Unfortunately, once the stomach flu makes a stop at your house, it has to run its course. It’s awful, and there is no cure but there are a few things you can do to try to fend it off.
What is Gastroenteritis or the “Stomach Flu”?
It’s easy to get confused about the difference between influenza, or “the flu,” and gastroenteritis, better known as “the stomach flu.” The stomach flu is not caused by the influenza virus, which gives you the seasonal flu. Getting the flu shot does not prevent you from getting the stomach flu, but it does prevent you from getting influenza.
“Stomach flu” or gastroenteritis is not the flu at all. Instead, the term refers to a group of infections that cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain. Gastroenteritis is caused by a number of viruses, mainly norovirus, which accounts for more than 50 percent of all cases, and others, like rotavirus. Bacteria, such salmonella and E. coli, can also be to blame.
Viral gastroenteritis is contagious. It is spread through close contact with infected persons or by touching surfaces contaminated by an infected person and then touching one’s mouth. You’re most likely to get viral gastroenteritis when you eat or drink contaminated food or water. You may also be likely to get gastroenteritis if you share utensils, towels or food with someone who has one of the viruses that cause the condition.
“The stomach flu is spread by the fecal-oral route, which means the viruses from infected feces or vomit find their way into our mouths from either touching a contaminated surface and then touching your face or eating/drinking contaminated foods and/or water. Compared to other viruses, noroviruses can live for days on household surfaces, which is why they spread easily,” said Lisa Nwokolo, a Nurse Practitioner with West Tennessee Medical Group.
Treatment & Prevention
There’s no effective treatment for viral gastroenteritis, so prevention is key. If you know the stomach flu is going around, take extra precautions. Some basic ways to avoid getting the stomach flu include washing your hands regularly, keeping your hands away from your mouth, avoiding any food or water that may be contaminated and getting plenty of rest. Avoid close contact with infected people if possible.
People can also reduce their chance of getting infected by prompt disinfection of contaminated surfaces as well as prompt washing of soiled articles of clothing. Persons who have viral gastroenteritis should not prepare food for other people while they have symptoms and for 48 hours after recovery from illness.
Some other tips if the stomach bug makes a stop at your home:
- Use the dishwasher instead of washing dishes by hand when possible.
- Use soap and water instead of hand sanitizer.
- Keep a sick family member isolated. Restrict them to one bathroom and have the rest of the household use another.
- Clean countertops and surfaces with a disinfectant spray and be sure to wash clothes and bedding as well.
“Stomach flu symptoms include stomach pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea,” said Nwokolo. “A low-grade fever, chills and muscle aches aren’t uncommon to experience as well. Symptoms can start as little as 12 hours after exposure. These symptoms can last anywhere from one to 14 days, and unfortunately, the stomach flu is extremely contagious.”
Nwokolo noted that while food poisoning symptoms can mirror those of the stomach flu, if your symptoms are caused by food poisoning, they tend to occur within hours after eating something. “If you can recall eating something questionable, or if others who ate the same thing as you and have similar symptoms, you probably have food poisoning,” she said. “If you are the only one who got sick, you more than likely picked up a viral illness.”
There is no specific treatment for the stomach flu. People can usually manage stomach flu symptoms with home remedies such as resting, drinking fluids, and eating certain foods. Home treatment can help prevent dehydration and ease symptoms. Rest may give the body time to recover and heal.
If you or someone in your home has signs of the stomach flu and home remedies are not helping, it is time to see the doctor. West Tennessee Medical Group has primary care physicians and pediatricians throughout the area that can help. To find a provider near you, click here.