Gastroenteritis is a medical condition that involves both the small intestine and stomach. It is caused by the inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. Gastroenteritis has been called a stomach virus or stomach bug, and is more commonly referred to as the stomach flu (although it is unrelated to influenza). Gastroenteritis is developed through the ingestion of contaminated water or food or by coming into contact with an infected person. The illness usually cures itself in only a few days.
The most common symptoms of stomach flu are vomiting and diarrhea. You may also suffer from abdominal cramping. Symptoms and signs typically begin within half a day to 3 days after contracting the illness. They generally last only a few days but sometimes may linger for over a week. Other symptoms include: fatigue or sleepiness, blood in the stool, a fever over 101 degrees, dehydration with extreme thirst, little urination, and a dry mouth. Brown University has more information on the stomach flu and its various symptoms.
The most common way to contract gastroenteritis is drinking contaminated water or eating contaminated food. It is also possible to contract it if you share food, towels, or utensils with an infected person. There are several viruses that can cause stomach flu, including noroviruses. Children are frequently infected when they place their dirty fingers into their mouths. Infected adults may not show any symptoms but can still carry and spread the disease. A vaccine is available in the United States to help fight some versions of the flu and it prevents severe symptoms from developing. Both adults and children are affected by noroviruses. In most cases, the virus is contracted from contaminated water or food. It is more likely to spread among people who live in confined spaces.
It is very important to wash your hands every time after you use the bathroom or change a diaper. Stomach flu viruses are abound in stool and washing your hands frequently can help eliminate bacteria. You should also wash all countertops, surfaces, sinks, toilets, and children’s toys with a disinfectant that has a chlorine base, and keep the area around the toilet as clean as possible. If you have young children and are required to change diapers, try to get rid of the diaper in a sanitary and quick manner. Wash your hands before and after changing a diaper. It is also important to wash what you eat, especially vegetables and fruits. Try to avoid eating raw shellfish like oysters. It is very important to make sure you have clean hands before handling or preparing food, as food can become contaminated and lead to food poisoning or stomach flu. People are who are infected should not prepare food for anyone until they have gone at least 3 days symptom free. If any clothes or linens have been contaminated with fecal matter or vomit, make sure to wash immediately and thoroughly, and handle the items carefully to avoid spreading the virus.
There is usually no specific medical treatment available for the stomach flu. Overusing antibiotics can cause antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria to form, and antibiotics are rarely effective against viruses to begin with.
Usually symptoms clear within a few days. Sometimes rehydration is administered, typically through oral rehydration therapy. If dehydration is severe enough, intravenous delivery may be offered. This is an effective treatment for both adults and children. Some doctors may also prescribe you antiemetics if you cannot stop vomiting. If your symptoms do not clear up within 3-4 days, you should see your doctor to see if any of these treatments are available for you.