Like influenza, which affects the respiratory system, stomach flu is most active during the winter, between October and April. Gastroenteritis, or the stomach flu, can come as either a bacterial or viral infection (with little difference between the two).
Generally causing stomach pains that lead to nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, the stomach flu is a disease you have to fare through on your own, watching for dehydration, a serious complication that puts you at risk for dying (stomach flu is the number one killer of children worldwide, mostly in third world countries, due to this).
The young, old, and those with weakened immune systems are most susceptible to stomach flu, and it spreads more easily where there are large amounts of people gathered in one area, like a daycare or nursing home, further increasing the risk for certain old and young. The Norovirus (or Norwalk-like Virus) is especially contagious in closed settings, leading to large outbreaks.
The Norovirus version of the stomach flu carries the additional symptoms of muscle aches, headache, fatigue, and feverâ€”considering its symptoms and proclivity for close quarters, if you think you might have this strain, know that itâ€™s possible to spread it via contact with other people, and that youâ€™ll be contagious for up to 2 weeks after you feel better.
Other possible stomach flu-causing pathogens include the Rotavirus (most common, adults may not show symptoms), Astrovirus, Enteric Adenovirus, and bacteria such as Salmonella or E. Coli.
Most cases of stomach flu are contracted after exposure to contaminated food or water. Food can become contaminated when safe food procedures are not followed (food is left out, not properly refrigerated, or not properly reheated, etc.). Contamination can also occur when good hygiene practices are not followed (hands arenâ€™t washed before food preparation or after a trip to the bathroom), and a small amount of feces (which is made up of a large percentage of bacteria) contaminates it.
The best way to avoid the stomach pains wrought by the stomach flu is prevention, so take measures like washing your hands, not sharing utensils with those sick, and properly preparing food.
Another less common way to contract the stomach flu is after a course of antibiotics, which can cause irritation of your stomach and the gastrointestinal tract in general.
Symptoms of the stomach flu (like stomach pains) can occur anywhere between a few hours to a few days after contracted, and can last for 1 or 2 days (most commonly), or up to ten, and, when proper care for hydration is taken, generally clears up on its own.
Other Stomach Flu Symptoms (some are less common, or may vary depending on the infecting pathogen):
- Loss of Appetite
- Fever, Chills
- Clammy skin/sweating
- Fainting or Weakness
- Joint Stiffness/Muscle Pain
- Blood in Stool (go to the doctor in case itâ€™s serious, but it may just indicate a certain bacterial infection).
Stomach flu is specifically caused because the virus or bacteria is causing inflammation of either the stomach or lower intestine (or both). To help strengthen your GI Tract to fight or prevent stomach flu, probiotics (found in fermented foods like yogurt or in supplements) may help.
Sipping water or sucking on ice chips throughout the day (taking breaks if you feel nausea) while resting is the best strategy to get through the stomach flu. If you are unable to keep water down, stop peeing, or if your baby has no tears when it cries, you should see a doctor about dehydration and getting intravenous fluid replenishment.
You also need to make sure that you are replacing your electrolytes and maintaining some nutritional intake (especially for longer bouts of stomach flu). Avoid processed sugar, which can worsen symptoms, and look for bland foods with lots of nutrients, like bananas, rice, and clear broths. Avoid caffeine, fat, and anything that may be hard for you to digest.
Diarrhea and vomiting, the two pillar symptoms of stomach flu, help you to expel the irritating pathogen, so you should not take medicines that stop you from doing either, as it may prolong your illness. Further, medicines in general may further irritate your stomach, and taking pain relievers isnâ€™t recommended. Specifically, Asprin taken while suffering from a viral infection (as the stomach flu often is) is linked to a serious illness (Reyeâ€™s Syndrome) in children and teens.
If you think that you arenâ€™t keeping yourself hydrated, or if you experience severe symptoms (like bleeding or a high fever), see a doctor. Small children and anyone needing a higher level of care need to be more strictly monitored for proper hydration.
What are the best foods and drinks when you have the stomach flu? Let us know in the comments!