It can send a strong, healthy person to bed for days. The nausea and vomiting, fever, abdominal pains, and diarrhea can make you cry for relief, but is it really the flu?
Could what affects millions of people every year actually be a virus known as the stomach flu? And if so, is the stomach flu contagious?
Known in medical terms as viral gastroenteritis, this stomach virus shows symptoms similar to influenza, commonly known as “the flu.”
This explains why prevention methods such as the flu shot do not work against the stomach bug many of us may experience.
What is Stomach Flu?
Gastroenteritis, or the stomach flu, is often caused by a virus directly impacting your gastrointestinal system. A variety of viruses cause stomach flu and enter the body by ingesting food that is not thoroughly cooked or prepared under poor hygienic conditions, or through physical contact with an infected person.
This attack can last up to 10 days depending on the type of virus responsible. Symptoms are mainly diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and abdominal pain; however, they can be accompanied by fever, body aches, headache, and dehydration.
The infectious influenza virus also causes fever and headaches; however, it also has the symptoms of runny nose, sore throat, muscle pains, coughing, and fatigue. The nausea and vomiting symptoms are not usually seen in adults, just occasionally in children. The symptoms appear two days after contact with the virus and last less than one week. The coughing symptom can last two weeks.
Is Stomach Flu Contagious?
Well, yes and no. There are common causes of stomach flu that are contagious such as viruses including the norovirus, adenovirus, and others. Contagious bacteria known to cause the condition include salmonella, shigella, and E coli as well as others.
There are also contagious parasite-related causes such as the organisms giardia lamblia and cryptosporidium.
The stomach flu causes that are not contagious include food allergies, antibiotics, and toxins. There is a large list of prescribed medications that caution gastroenteritis as a common side effect.
How Long Does the Stomach Flu Last?
Depending on the cause of the stomach flu, you can expect to be contagious for as long as two weeks or more.
The most common virus, norovirus, causes you to be contagious from the first moment you develop symptoms.
However, these may appear one to two days after you were exposed to the virus. This virus usually lasts a day or two, but you can still be contagious to others up to three days after your symptoms disappear.
In some cases, people can remain contagious for up to two weeks after signs of improvement.
The second virus, which mainly affects young children and babies, is the rotavirus. In this instance, the person is contagious before symptoms present as no signs are noticed for up to three days after exposure. The contagious period can continue up to two weeks after recovery.
Both viruses can be spread through contact with contaminated surfaces, food, and objects. The age-old advice of washing your hands with soap and water regularly and using the more popular hand sanitizers help to prevent the spread of the viruses. For infants, the vaccines RotaTeq and Rotarix are recommended by medical professionals.
5 Best Home Remedies for Stomach Flu
We know rest and fluids are critical to our health when sick with a virus; however, there are a few additional steps you can take at home.
1. Drink the Right Fluids
OK, so mom was right to say keep hydrated, but did you know there are specific fluids that will hinder your recovery? You need to replenish any fluids lost to sweat, vomit, and diarrhea, even if you have to chew ice chips or take small sips. The best fluids are water and broth, but if you are up for it, you can have sports drinks to replace the lost electrolytes.
Sodium bicarbonate, or baking soda, will absorb the acid in your system. Try sipping peppermint tea to calm your stomach or ginger tea for the nausea. Avoid caffeinated and alcoholic beverages.
2. Eat the Right Foods
It may seem impossible at the time, but if you can manage to eat, keep in mind the B.R.A.T. diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, toast). These foods are easily digested, replenishes essential nutrients and contains carbohydrates for energy. Avoid dairy, fiber, fatty and spicy foods.
3. Healing Touch
The thought of the human touch may send you up a wall when suffering from the stomach flu, but acupressure can be helpful with nausea. According to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, a spot on your inner arm may provide some relief from nausea. Pressure point P-6 can be found by “measuring the width of three fingers down from the bottom of your palm. Press below that width with your thumb and you’ll feel a sensitive spot between two tendons. Gently massage that spot with your thumb for two or three minutes,” Healthline states.
The best way to fight any virus is with rest. When you are not sleeping, try to remain resting by lying down so your body can repair cell damage.
Unfortunately, the stomach flu cannot be cured with antibiotics as it is caused by a virus, which the medications are defenseless against.
You may take over-the-counter pain relief for symptoms such as headache or muscle pain, however, remember some medications can cause an upset stomach.
Acetaminophen is usually recommended for pain while your doctor may prescribe an antiemetic to ease severe nausea and vomiting.
Now that we know the difference between the stomach flu and what we know as “the flu,” we can be better prepared to face either illness head-on. It is important to recognize the signs and treat each one accordingly. It is especially important to know which types of the stomach flu are contagious and take precautions to protect ourselves and our loved ones.
Rest and fluids are the best medicine; however, it is vital to seek medical treatment for severe cases.