Stomach Flu (Viral Gastroenteritis)

Location of stomach organs
Digestive system: Esophagus, gallbladder, liver, stomach, sigmoid colon, duodenum, pancreas, colon, small intestine, anus, rectum.

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse
Reviewed by Wendy Wells, NMD.

Stomach Flu (Viral Gastroenteritis) is an intestinal infection caused by several different viruses. Highly contagious, Stomach Flu (Viral Gastroenteritis) is the second most common illness in the United States. It causes millions of cases of diarrhea each year.

Anyone can get Stomach Flu and most people recover without any complications. However, Stomach Flu can be serious when people cannot drink enough fluids to replace what is lost through vomiting and diarrhea, especially infants, young children, the elderly, and people with weak immune systems.

Stomach Flu Symptoms

The main symptoms of Stomach Flu (Viral Gastroenteritis) are:

Symptoms usually appear within 4 to 48 hours after exposure to the virus and last for 1 to 2 days, though symptoms can last as long as 10 days.

Stomach Flu Causes

The viruses that cause Stomach Flu (Viral Gastroenteritis) damage the cells in the lining of the small intestine. As a result, fluids leak from the cells into the intestine and produce watery diarrhea. Four types of viruses cause most Stomach Flu (Viral Gastroenteritis).

Stomach Flu (Viral Gastroenteritis) is often mistakenly called "- stomach flu," but it is not caused by the influenza virus and it does not infect the stomach. Also, Stomach Flu (Viral Gastroenteritis) is not caused by bacteria or parasites. For information about bacterial infections, please see the Bacteria and Foodborne Illness fact sheet from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).

Viral Transmission

Stomach Flu (Viral Gastroenteritis) is highly contagious. The viruses are commonly transmitted by people with unwashed hands. People can get the viruses through close contact with infected individuals by sharing their food, drink, or eating utensils, or by eating food or drinking beverages that are contaminated with the virus. Noroviruses in particular, are typically spread to other people by contact with stool or vomit of infected people and through contaminated water or food—- especially oysters from contaminated waters.

People who no longer have symptoms may still be contagious, since the virus can be found in their stool for up to 2 weeks after they recover from their illness. Also, people can become infected without having symptoms and they can still spread the infection.

Outbreaks of Stomach Flu (Viral Gastroenteritis) can occur in households, child care settings, schools, nursing homes, cruise ships, camps, dormitories, restaurants, and other places where people gather in groups. If you suspect that you were exposed to a virus in one of these settings or by foods prepared on the premise of places such as a restaurant, deli, or bakery, you may want to contact your local health department, which tracks outbreaks.

Stomach Flu Diagnosis

If you think you have Stomach Flu (Viral Gastroenteritis), you may want to see your doctor. Doctors generally diagnose Stomach Flu (Viral Gastroenteritis) based on the symptoms and a physical examination. Your doctor may ask for a stool sample to test for rotavirus or to rule out bacteria or parasites as the cause of your symptoms. No routine tests are currently available for the other types of viruses.

Treatment

Most cases of Stomach Flu (Viral Gastroenteritis) resolve over time without specific treatment. Antibiotics are not effective against viral infections. The primary goal of treatment is to reduce the symptoms, and prompt treatment may be needed to prevent dehydration.

Your body needs fluids to function. Dehydration is the loss of fluids from the body. Important salts or minerals, known as electrolytes, can also be lost with the fluids. Dehydration can be caused by diarrhea, vomiting, excessive urination, excessive sweating, or by not drinking enough fluids because of nausea, difficulty swallowing, or loss of appetite.

In Stomach Flu (Viral Gastroenteritis), the combination of diarrhea and vomiting can cause dehydration. The symptoms of dehydration are:

If you notice any of these symptoms, you should talk to your doctor. Mild dehydration can be treated by drinking liquids. Severe dehydration may require intravenous fluids and hospitalization. Untreated severe dehydration can be life threatening.

Children present special concerns. Because of their smaller body size, infants and children are at greater risk of dehydration from diarrhea and vomiting. Oral rehydration solutions such as Pedialyte can replace lost fluids, minerals, and salts.

The following steps may help relieve the symptoms of Stomach Flu (Viral Gastroenteritis).

Stomach Flu Prevention

Prevention is the only way to avoid Stomach Flu (Viral Gastroenteritis). No vaccine is available. You can avoid infection by

Research

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), through its Division of Digestive Diseases, supports basic and clinical research into gastrointestinal diseases, including epithelial cell injury in the gastrointestinal tract. New vaccines under development may decrease the risk of infection, especially among infants and young children.

Important Points to Remember

More Information

Stomach Flu Symptoms by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.




Wendy Wells

Reviewed by Wendy Wells licensed naturopathic physician in the state of Arizona.
Say hello and connect with Wendy at Google+ | LinkedIn | iconWebsite Newsletter




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