Stomach Flu

Viral gastroenteritis is an illness that is quite common throughout the year, but it is especially common during the winter months.  Stomach flu symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, a general feeling of illness and occasionally fever.  In other words, the stomach flu makes you feel bad all over.

Onset of symptoms begins within one to two days of exposure and people may be contagious even before showing symptoms.  Most of the time symptoms will resolve within 24 to 48 hours, but people who have had the stomach flu may be contagious for up to two to three weeks.

Treatment

The best treatment for stomach flu is to rehydration.  This means drink a lot of fluids, especially water.  Broth and some sports drinks, when tolerated, can also be good options. Juice and soda are usually not good choices because the sugar can cause more diarrhea and delay recovery.   

It is also important to get a lot of rest to restore your energy.  When you start feeling a little better, you can slowly introduce foods back into your diet. Toast, applesauce and chicken noodle soup are good reentry foods.  It is a good idea to avoid dairy initially and then slowly reintroduce it into your diet after several days.  High fat foods can also cause difficulty with digestion, so it is a good idea to reintroduce these foods slowly as well. 

When to Seek Medical Attention

Gastroenteritis can cause serious dehydration, especially in children.  Signs of dehydration include:

  • Listlessness
  • Decreased urination
  • No tears when crying
  • A dry tongue

If your child is sick and refuses to drink, you can feed him or her very small amounts of water or Pedialyte via a syringe every 10 minutes over the course of an hour or two until he or she feels good enough to drink more. Concern about dehydration is definitely a reason to call your doctor’s office for advice and next steps. Depending on the severity of illness, your child may need to go to the emergency room for an IV of fluids.

If symptoms do not being improving within 72 hours, are progressively getting worse, if abdominal pain is severe, or if you are concerned about your or your family member’s condition, consult with your physician.

Prevention

Stomach flu is highly contagious.  If you have been exposed or someone in your household has had it, it is very likely others in the family will get it too.  This is especially true for those caring for the ill person.  Stomach flu is spread through contact with vomit or stool, contaminated food or water, direct contact with an infected person, and contact with surfaces touched by an infected person, such as doorknobs, faucet handles or toilet flush handles.

Gastroenteritis is often resistant to hand sanitizers. The best way to stay well is to wash your hands often with warm water and soap. Bleach is the best cleaner to use when trying to kill these particular viruses.  It is also a good idea to wear gloves when caring for a sick person or cleaning up after a sick person to reduce the risk of exposure to the virus.

Dr. Laura Ekka is a physician with WakeMed Physician Practices – Garner Primary Care and is board certified in both internal medicine and pediatrics.