Stomach Flu- Symptoms and Treatment | Is Stomach Flu Contagious?

There is nothing worse than throwing up over a toilet several times a day. If this what are going through or have been through, it is probably the stomach flu. Stomach flu which is medically referred to as Gastroenteritis is an inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract or simply GI tract. GI tract is basically a series of organs in the human body which are connected from mouth to anus. Mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine and anus makeup the gastrointestinal tract. While the liver, pancreas, and gallbladder are the organs of the digestive system. In short, the gastrointestinal tract is an organ system which takes in food, digests it to take up the energy from the nutrients and expels the waste as feces.

Flu is generally used to name the diseases caused by the Influenza virus, but in this case, gastroenteritis is nowhere related to it because the influenza virus only attacks the respiratory system and not the GI tract. Stomach flu is specifically a term used for various inflammatory problems of the gastrointestinal tract. Gastroenteritis is more commonly caused by viruses like Norovirus, Rotavirus, and others. And rarely, it might be a bacterial infection caused by Staphylococci, Salmonella, Shigella, E.coli, etc..  Keep reading to find out more facts about stomach flu.

IS STOMACH FLU CONTAGIOUS?  

Unfortunately YES! Stomach flu is extremely contagious.

Unlike other viruses, the Norovirus can live on household surfaces for several days so it can spread easily. In more than 50% of the cases, stomach flu is caused by this virus. There can be different causes that you are suffering from stomach flu. As it is contagious, you might have come in contact with a person with stomach flu. It can spread even by touching an infected person, touching something they have touched or eat food prepared by them.

It can also be spread by the oral-fecal route, like eating from an infected person plate or getting in contact with feces contaminated surfaces and touching other people with those hands. Viruses can even enter your mouth from infected feces or vomit and touching your face after coming in contact with any contaminated surface. It can also be caused by drinking contaminated water or eating fruits or vegetables washed with contaminated water. It should be taken care that your hands are washed frequently when you are close to an infected person. Regular use of hand sanitizer is recommended as a precaution if you have no means to wash your hands while you are out of your house.. Always remember that ‘Prevention is better than Cure’.

SYMPTOMS :  

Stomach Flu Symptoms

In most cases, symptoms can be observed in the first 3 days. They range from mild to severe depending on the acute or chronic stage of infection. Occasionally, symptoms can last from 10-14 days and include the following.

  • Diarrhea. (large intestine gets affected by the pathogen and loses it ability to retain fluids causing loose and watery stools)  
  • Abdominal cramps or pain
  • Nausea  
  • Vomiting
  • Low-grade fever
  • Muscle aches
  • Headaches  
  • Excessive sweating
  • Clammy skin
  • Incontinence (loss of stool control)
  • Poor feeding (in infants)
  • Dehydration (may cause unintentional weight loss)

TREATMENT :  

In many cases, stomach flu goes away on its own by having enough rest and drinking ample amount of fluids without getting dehydrated. But if symptoms are lasting longer and are really bad then you should consult a doctor. He will run tests and recommend antibiotics that clear up certain parasites in the stomach. He will also look for diseases that have similar symptoms in your tests.  

Also Read: Healthy Diet Plan for Weight Gain

Dehydration can be caused due to frequent loose stools and vomiting which may lead to passing out. If you are having a dry mouth, dry skin, dark yellow urine, sunken eyes or cheeks, extreme thirst or dizziness you are probably dehydrated. Go for fluids which have calories in them like ORS drinks, sports drinks, fruit juices, vegetable broth, etc.  

When you feel you are good enough to take solid food, start with bananas, bread, rice and potatoes as it is a carb rice diet which provides more calories. Keep in mind to avoid caffeine, sugary or fatty foods, dairy, nicotine, and alcohol as they are hard on your stomach and may cause further damage.

When it comes to children, they should be given sips of water to prevent dehydration. They should be taken to a doctor when the symptoms last for 1 or 2 days.

Acupressure technique can be used to relieve from a nauseous state. Start by sitting in a relaxed position with your eyes closed and breathe deeply. Now measure three fingers width from the thumb for your palm. Apply pressure at that soft point between your tendons and massage slowly for a couple of minutes.

When you are suffering from cramps and bloating you can go for natural remedies like ginger peppermint tea or chamomile tea. Adding ginger, mint or lemon can aid in coping up with the symptoms of stomach flu. These are the super herbs found in every kitchen or you can directly get the tea from a local supermarket either in powder form or as teabags.

Ginger is known to improve digestion besides relieving from nausea and vomiting. Mint is known for its cooling effects and relaxing the muscles. Chamomile is used in treating cramps as it is anti inflammatory. These are all effective against bloating and help in soothing the stomach. Besides these, you can also opt for fennel tea which is good for the digestive system as it helps in easy digestion of food.

Coming to the medication, stomach flu cannot be completely cured by medicines or antibiotics but you can take them to reduce the symptoms. But these over the counter medicines can only be taken by adults and not children.  

Children should be given these medicines only on doctors advice. Moreover, use these medicines only if you are affected by viral gastroenteritis and not by bacteria or other parasites.  

Loperamide hydrochloride(Imodium) and bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol, Kaopectate) is used to treat diarrhea caused by viruses. You can go for Ibuprofen (advil) to treat fever and aches but make sure you are not dehydrated if you are planning to take this tablet as it can be hard on your kidneys. It is insisted to take with food.  

Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is recommended to take instead of ibuprofen as it has lesser side effects compared to ibuprofen. It should be avoided by patients who have liver diseases. It is also effective against fever and aches but is less likely to irritate the stomach when compared to ibuprofen.  

Antimetics, Promethazine, Ondansetron, Metoclopramide, Prochlorooerazine are prescribed by doctors to relieve nausea.

PREVENTION :  

When you get to know that stomach flu is prevailing in your surroundings, start taking necessary preventions to avoid getting infected. Wash your hands more frequently and avoid touching your face multiple times. Wash your hands before touching or eating food, after shaking hands with strangers or infected people, after using the washroom or changing a diaper or sanitary napkin.  

If you suffer from stomach flu, restrain yourself from going into the kitchen. Stay away from food preparations for a day or two after you have recovered from its symptoms. If you need to wash the clothes of an infected person, wear rubber gloves and put them in a washing machine with a good quantity of detergent and dry them in the machine itself.  

Keep your hygiene in check. Prefer self-cooked or homemade meals over eating in restaurants. If you have to eat outside, go to places which have good quality food along with good hygiene. Eating junk or street food can lead to stomach flu eventually as they are exposed to all pathogens and not clean most of the time.

Keep your house and surroundings clean. Mopping your house floor once in a couple of days with enough amount of bleach or antimicrobial solutions is advisable. Avoid getting in close contact with people who have stomach flu and keep them isolated. Restrict using the bathroom which they have used or have been using.  

Clean your veggies and fruits with warm water before eating them for more protection. Your vegetables may be contaminated before harvesting so make sure what you are buying is of good quality. Also, make sure you thoroughly cook your seafood before eating. Disinfect your house, surfaces, bedding, and utensils after the infected person has recovered.

CONCLUSION :

If the person is still suffering badly even after all the treatments and rest, he should be taken to the hospital. Consult a doctor immediately when you see blood in your stool or vomit, can’t hold up fluids for more than a day, dehydrated, 102-degree body temperature or more, heartbeat gets faster and you feel like you about to faint or feel dizzy. Also, do not neglect any of the above symptoms when you are pregnant or a young child goes through these. Take extreme precautions in case of infants. Do not do your regular works or exercises when you have stomach flu. Refrain yourself from going to school, college or office as you don’t want other people to get infected. Avoid social gatherings and take complete rest until you recover completely.  

Stomach flu is not deadly in a majority of the cases if treated in time and many people have a speedy recovery without any complications. There is nothing much you can do except taking rest and being patient. Never stop taking your health and lifestyle seriously. Remember, you are what you eat. So eat healthy food and stay in clean surroundings.  

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