The Facts About the Stomach Flu

The flu isn’t the only virus that we need to protect ourselves against this time of year. Gastroenteritis, or the stomach flu is a very contagious bug that is common in our region beginning in the fall and winter months.

Unlike influenza, which affects your respiratory system, the stomach flu attacks your intestines causing the following symptoms:

• Watery, non-bloody diarrhea
• Abdominal cramps and pain
• Nausea, vomiting or both
• Occasional muscle aches, headache, and low-grade fever

Businessman with stomach ache

Gastroenteritis is typically spread through the sharing of food or drink with someone who is infected or sharing other items with them such as utensils or towels. Children can also spread the illness by placing their hands in their mouths after touching contaminated items or surfaces.

Symptoms usually appear within one to three days after exposure and can range from mild to severe. Typically symptoms last only a day or two, but in some cases, they may persist for up to ten days.

The main complication from viral gastroenteritis is dehydration — a severe loss of water and essential salts and minerals. If you’re healthy and drink enough to replace fluids you lose from vomiting and diarrhea, dehydration shouldn’t be a problem. However, infants, older adults and people with suppressed immune systems may become severely dehydrated when they lose more fluids than they can replace. Hospitalization might be needed so that lost fluids can be replaced intravenously. Dehydration can be fatal, but rarely.

To avoid catching the stomach flu, it is recommended that individuals wash their hands thoroughly, use separate items around the home, disinfect all potentially infected items and surfaces, and keep your distance from those who are infected.

If you do contract gastroenteritis, follow these tips:

• Let your stomach settle. Stop eating solid foods for a few hours.
• Try sucking on ice chips or taking small sips of water. You might also try drinking clear liquids or broths or non-caffeinated sports drinks. Drink plenty of liquid every day, taking small, frequent sips.
• Ease back into eating. Gradually begin to eat bland, easy-to-digest foods, such as ginger ale crackers, toast, gelatin, bananas, rice and chicken. Stop eating if your nausea returns.
• Avoid certain foods and substances until you feel better. These include dairy products, caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and fatty or highly seasoned foods.
• Get plenty of rest. The illness and dehydration may have made you weak and tired.

See a doctor if you become dehydrated (characterized by excessive thirst, dry mouth, dark yellow or no urine, severe weakness or dizziness), if symptoms persist for over 24 hours, if you are vomiting blood or have blood in your stool, or if you have a temperature of 104 degrees or above.

All content of this newsletter is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a medical professional before adopting any of the suggestions on this page. You must never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment based upon any content of this newsletter. PROMPTLY CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN OR CALL 911 IF YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY.