What you Need to Know about Stomach Flu
Stomach flu affects millions of people in the U.S. alone each year, and this is due to the contagious nature of the illness and the variety of viruses that can cause it. Stomach flu is not technically a flu, as influenza does not cause it. Instead, stomach flu is just a common name for viral gastroenteritis. Here is what you should know about this illness and measures you can take to prevent it.
The most common culprits behind stomach flu are norovirus, adenovirus, rotavirus, and astrovirus. They are spread easily through person-to-person contact or by touching surfaces contaminated by the virus. The virus then enters the body through the mouth or nose. Stomach flu outbreaks are more common in winter, but they can happen at any time of year.
Stomach flu causes inflammation in the stomach and intestines, and because of this, the most common, and unpleasant, signs are stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Many afflicted with the virus also suffer from chills, muscle aches, fever and tiredness. Severity of signs depends on the virus responsible as well as the general physiology of the person suffering from this illness.
There is no cure for the stomach flu, but you can take steps to help your body handle the symptoms. One of the most serious complications of gastroenteritis is dehydration. Vomiting or diarrhea cause loss of fluids and important minerals, and infants and children are at highest risk for electrolyte imbalances from dehydration.Take small sips of water throughout the day if you are vomiting but have no diarrhea. Those experiencing diarrhea should supplement the water with an electrolyte solution to replace lost minerals.
Bland, easily digested foods can help recovery as soon as food can be kept down. Appropriate foods include chicken and rice soup, chicken broth, toast, applesauce, banana, crackers and juice.
Wash your hands frequently throughout the day, and especially before eating. Make sure to use good hand-washing techniques, such as cleaning under the fingernails and scrubbing with soap.
Hand sanitizer is also a valuable tool for prevention of the stomach flu. Carry a small bottle with you, especially in winter when viral gastroenteritis is more common.
If a household member has the stomach flu, make sure to disinfect all surfaces and wash laundry in hot water and detergent.
Other illnesses, such as food poisoning, have similar symptoms to the stomach flu. For this reason, it is important to contact your doctor if symptoms persist beyond 24 hours in order to rule out other problems. Also, keep a close eye on infants, children and the elderly who have stomach flu. If dizziness, pain or severe vomiting or diarrhea occurs, they may need medical assistance.