Along with the common cold, viruses of all varieties pop up during the wintertime. Like the influenza that appears similar to a very bad cold, stomach flu (viral gastroenteritis) is very common, affecting twenty-one million Americans each year. (1) Now that it’s stomach flu season, you may find it helpful to know what it is and what to do if it strikes you or your family.
Effective home remedies for stomach flu can help calm your symptoms and adequate rest are the best ways to get rid of the stomach flu as quickly as possible. While you’re in the throes, you probably won’t feel much like eating; once you feel better, however, it’s important to get the right nourishment to restore what was lost and get your strength back. Your system will still be tender so we have some suggestions for what to eat after a stomach flu has passed.
Stomach Flu Vs. Food Poisoning
Stomach flu symptoms are similar to those of other types of flu with the extra special stomach distress added:
- joint and muscle aches
- stomach cramps
- loss of appetite/weight loss
These are similar to the symptoms of food poisoning so you may be not be sure which you’ve contracted. In the case of food poisoning, you can expect additional symptoms:
- heavy sweating
- extreme thirst
Food poisoning symptoms usually hit within a few hours of eating contaminated food. Stomach flu can take up to forty-eight hours after exposure to begin to affect you and the symptoms usually come on slowly.
Stomach Flu Causes
Like influenza, stomach flu is caused by a virus—usually one of the following:
- adenovirus – common in children, this type of virus affects tissue linings, including those of the upper respiratory tract, eyes, urinary tract, intestines, and nervous system
- norovirus – also known as “the winter vomiting bug”, this attacks the digestive system and is the most common cause of the stomach flu
- rotavirus – the most common cause of inflammation of the stomach and intestines (gastroenteritis) in children worldwide.
How Long Does Stomach Flu Last?
If you were to ask someone who has had it, they’ll tell you: “too long”. Most cases of stomach flu will take a couple of days to run their course. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, however, you may feel its effects for up to ten days. Given the harshness of this type of bug, it’s no wonder why. If symptoms don’t subside after a few days, see your healthcare practitioner to determine if there’s some other medical condition that’s causing them to linger.
Is Stomach Flu Contagious?
Yes, extremely so. Stomach flu is contracted via direct or indirect contact with someone who has the bug or a hard surface that’s been infected. These types of viruses can also spread through contact with bodily excretions, a potential hazard when changing a diaper. You can remain contagious for up to three days after symptoms have dissipated.
Stomach flu season is November to April, so it’s wise to pay special attention to hygiene during this time. Similar to other infectious disease, medical experts recommend a common sense approach to avoid getting sick and spreading infection.
- Wash hands thoroughly with warm soapy water, especially after using the toilet or being in close contact with others. The incubation period for these viruses is twenty-four to forty-eight hours before the onset of symptoms so you may come into contact with someone who has it but is asymptomatic.
- Avoid contaminated food and water or anything that’s been in close proximity to an infected person.
- Wash produce before eating it.
- Cook meats and seafood thoroughly – norovirus is the top cause of foodborne illness. (2)
- Dispose of vomit and feces of the infected person slowly and carefully, as the virus can become airborne.
- The infected person should not attend work, school, or any event where other people are present to avoid spreading the virus.
- Frequently clean hard surfaces with an anti-viral cleaner or hot soapy water. Lemon juice, peppermint, and tea tree oil are natural anti-virals that can be mixed with water in a spray bottle for use in cleaning and disinfecting.