Gastroenteritis, commonly referred to as stomach flu, is an infection that causes the inner lining of the intestines to get inflamed. It initially starts with a fever accompanied by chills and nausea and later transitions into severe stomach pain with frequent diarrhoea. Unfortunately, it has no cure; one can only use remedies to alleviate the symptoms while the flu runs its full course.
What causes stomach flu?
The main risk factor for contracting viral gastroenteritis is consuming tainted food or water. If one shares towels, food, or utensils with someone with one of the viruses that cause gastroenteritis, they may also be more prone to contract the virus.
Numerous viruses can cause gastroenteritis, such as
Noroviruses: Noroviruses are the most common cause of foodborne illness worldwide, affecting both children and adults. Norovirus infection can spread quickly through communities and families. People in small settings are especially susceptible to contracting it there.
We know that the virus mostly spreads due to contaminated food and water consumption. However, it can also spread among those who share food or are in close proximity to the infected individual. In addition, one can potentially contract the virus by droplets during a sneeze or by coming in contact with a norovirus-contaminated surface.
Rotavirus: Most cases of viral gastroenteritis in children are caused by this virus, usually because children have the habit of putting fingers or toys in their mouth, which might have traces of the virus. Additionally, contaminated food can also transmit the disease. Infants and small children are most severely affected by the virus.
Adults with rotavirus infection may not exhibit any symptoms, yet they are nonetheless contagious. This is especially concerning in institutional settings like nursing homes since infected persons may unintentionally infect others. However, in some nations, notably the United States, a vaccine against viral gastroenteritis is accessible and looks to be successful in preventing the infection.
One can get sick by eating some shellfish, particularly raw or undercooked oysters. However, the virus is frequently spread when the food becomes contaminated due to the touch of an infected individual.
What are the symptoms of stomach flu?
Although gastroenteritis is frequently referred to as “the stomach flu,” it is not the same as influenza. Only the respiratory system, including the nose, throat, and lungs, is impacted by the flu (influenza). On the other hand, gastroenteritis affects the intestines and results in symptoms like:
– Bloody diarrhea (typically indicates the presence of a separate, more serious ailment)
– Vomiting, nausea, or both
– Stomach aches and cramps
– Occasional headaches or muscular aches
– A minor fever
Depending on the virus’s type, the symptoms of viral gastroenteritis can be moderate to severe and appear one to three days after infection. The symptoms usually last for a day or two. However, in rare conditions, they can last up to two weeks.
Methods of diagnosis
From the symptoms, healthcare professionals can frequently diagnose stomach flu. However, the doctor might order several tests to rule out other illnesses:
– Stool Samples: They are used in tests to check for bacteria, viruses, or parasites.
– Sigmoidoscopy: To check for symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease, a clinician inserts a small, flexible tube with a camera from the anus into the lower large intestine. The sigmoidoscopy takes 15 minutes and is typically performed without sedation.
Methods of treatments
The two most crucial things one can do to recover more quickly are to get plenty of rest and drink plenty of water. The body loses a lot of water and electrolytes due to vomiting and diarrhea. Hence, one should take tiny, frequent sips of water, sports drinks, juice, or broth if the stomach discomfort persists or chew on ice chips. In severe episodes of diarrhea, water alone may not be sufficient to keep one hydrated, so be careful to consume electrolyte-balanced fluids (sports drinks, Gatorade, Pedialyte, etc.) as well. Then, when one starts to feel hungry again, one can resume eating a regular diet.
Typically, the stomach flu lasts a little more than a week. If one gets symptoms, one should stay home and continue washing their hands properly. Be cautious when using the restroom because the virus can remain in the feces for up to two weeks after one’s symptoms have subsided. After using the restroom, wash hands and any stained clothing in hot, soapy water.
Methods of prevention
– Regular Handwash: Any object that comes into contact with faeces gets contaminated with the virus. Effective handwashing is essential for halting the spread. Viruses on one’s hands can readily infect individuals, food items, or areas they touch. After using the restroom, changing a baby, touching bathroom surfaces, and handling food, it’s crucial to wash the hands thoroughly.
– Sanitize surrounding areas: One should make sure to properly clean every space that they have touched while they were infected as the virus may infect anyone else in contact with the same objects
– Eat and handle food cautiously: Ensure the kitchen is properly disinfected, especially after handling raw meat. Avoiding raw and uncooked food items. Consume only pasteurized dairy products along with fruit juices like apple juice.
What can one do now?
Rest well and consume large amounts of liquids until the symptoms subside. Sports drinks and other beverages with salt and sugar help one’s intestine absorb fluids more effectively and replenish lost electrolytes. It might also be beneficial to consume salty crackers, ginger ale, or another sweet beverage. For one or two days, avoid dairy products like cow’s milk because milk can exacerbate diarrhea owing to transitory lactose intolerance that sometimes accompanies gastroenteritis.
The doctor might suggest an over-the-counter drug like bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol® or Kaopectate®) to treat severe diarrhea. If one has a high fever or bloody diarrhea, which can indicate a more serious bacterial or parasitic infection, they shouldn’t use these medications. The use of antidiarrheal drugs by youngsters is not advised. Visit the healthcare provider for treatment instead.
At some point, nearly everyone contracts the stomach illness. Although it is unpleasant, it normally goes away in less than a week. However, before returning to one’s regular activities, give the body some time to rest and heal. Fortunately, there are things one may take to reduce their chances of spreading it or catching it up again in the future.