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Phone number for Reliant Medical Group:
(800) 283-2556

By Dr. Joseph DiFranza
Family Practitioner, Reliant Medical Group

When you are vomiting every hour or going through a bad round of diarrhea, you may not care that much whether you have a stomach virus or food poisoning. However, once you recover you may wonder if you can safely return to your favorite restaurant or barbecue stand again…so it can be valuable to know the difference.

In the United States, the most common cause of a stomach virus (also known as stomach flu) is the norovirus. This is a viral infection that attacks the digestive system (and has nothing to do with the flu virus). Stomach viruses like the norovirus are very contagious and can spread quickly. We’ve all heard the stories about passengers on cruise ships suffering en masse with the norovirus. Unfortunately, people infected with a stomach virus are contagious from the moment they become ill to at least the first few days after they recover. Typical stomach viruses can be spread in a number of ways:

  • Eating food or drinking liquids that have been contaminated with the virus
  • Touching a surface that someone with the infection has touched
  • Having direct contact with someone that has the virus

Stomach viruses can be easily spread through the vomit and stool of infected people, so caretakers should be especially careful and take precautions. Although there are rapid stool tests that can be used to detect the norovirus or rotavirus, your doctor will probably make a diagnosis by asking about your symptoms. Typical symptoms of a stomach virus (also known as gastroenteritis) are:

  • Diarrhea that may be watery or bloody
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Stomach cramps, muscle aches or weakness
  • A low-grade fever
  • Headaches, as well as light-headedness or dizziness

Food poisoning often causes similar symptoms to a stomach virus, which is why the two conditions often confused. However, food poisoning is caused by consuming food that is contaminated by bacteria, viruses, or parasites. Medical professionals often use the term gastroenteritis to describe both conditions.

The symptoms of food poisoning hit more quickly than those of a stomach virus. While symptoms of a stomach virus can take days to develop, food poisoning symptoms can appear very quickly – within six hours of eating a meal. Food poisoning is usually caused by bacteria. Salmonella and E. coli are two common types of bacteria linked to food poisoning. Usually food poisoning happens to more than one person at a time. (Everyone who eats the contaminated food becomes ill.) Salad greens, eggs, undercooked poultry, dairy products and seafood can easily cause food poisoning if they are not handled properly, whether at home or in a restaurant.

Although the symptoms are similar, there are some ways to tell the difference between the stomach flu and food poisoning.

  • Bloody diarrhea is more likely to be a symptom of food poisoning.
  • Projectile vomiting and stomach cramps are often caused by the norovirus, a type of stomach virus.
  • Stomach viruses take longer to develop but usually go away in about 24 to 28 hours after symptoms begin. Food poisoning often lasts longer.
  • Food poisoning usually affects more than one person and can often be traced to a particular source.
  • A stomach virus is more likely to cause a fever, headache and stomach pain.

Whether you have food poisoning or a stomach bug, the important thing to do is treat it properly. Here are some tips:

  • One of the most important things to do is stay hydrated. Throwing up and suffering from diarrhea means you are losing a lot of fluids. Take small sips of water or broth to stay hydrated. Fluids that contain electrolytes such as sports drinks or coconut water can also be helpful (avoid sugary drinks).
  • If you can safely keep fluids in your system, you can start to eat simple, easy-to digest foods such as toast, crackers, soup, rice and bread.
  • Get plenty of rest. It’s best to cancel any planned activities until you feel better.
  • Don’t take any anti-nausea or anti-diarrhea medication without consulting a medical provider first (some medications can make you feel worse). Adults can take ibuprofen or acetaminophen to relieve symptoms.

Be sure to call your doctor if you have a fever, can’t tolerate liquids, have bloody stools or if your diarrhea is severe or lasts more than three days. If you take a prescription medication for a pre-existing condition but can’t keep it down, you should also contact your doctor.

Stomach Bug vs. Food Poisoning

We all know the horror of food poisoning: what looks like a delicious meal ends up sending you straight to bed for a day. Just the same, shaking the wrong hand can knock you down for a week with a “stomach bug”. But what’s the difference between the two? The answer seems pretty obvious, given their names… but when you’re bedridden and fighting waves of nausea, it can be hard to tell what your body is fighting.

What is a “Stomach Bug”?

“Stomach bug” is actually a nonspecific term we use to refer to any sort of condition involving vomiting or nausea. In reality, the “stomach bug” we’re dealing with is a common infection called Gastroenteritis. Gastroenteritis involves the inflammation and irritation of the stomach and intestines, which causes its tell-tale symptoms.

Symptoms of Gastroenteritis include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting or Nausea
  • Stomach Pains
  • Cramps
  • Fever
  • Headache

When suffering from a Stomach Bug, it’s common to find yourself dehydrated. As you can guess, this is due to the amount of purging your body is doing to fight the virus. If you experience symptoms of dehydration such as dry mouth, extreme thirst, lightheadedness, or dry skin, we advise you call a doctor or visit DOCS Urgent Care of Fairfield, Norwalk, or Bridgeport for immediate attention.

What causes Gastroenteritis?

Gastroenteritis can be caused by:

Contact with someone suffering from Gastroenteritis

Consumption of contaminated food or water

Unwashed hands after using the bathroom, or changing a diaper

There are three viruses known to cause Gastroenteritis, known as adenovirus, rotavirus, and norovirus. Rotavirus is known as the most common cause of Gastroenteritis in children. Infants can be vaccinated to prevent this particular strain.

How is Gastroenteritis treated?

Unfortunately, a viral strain of Gastroenteritis cannot be treated with common antibiotics. In the case of a viral infection, the sickness will typically pass within 10 days without medication. To help your body fight the virus:

Drink lots of fluids. The biggests danger of Gastroenteritis is dehydration. While vomiting and suffering from diarrhea, your body is disposing of fluids more frequently than it can take them in. The most important thing you can do to prevent dehydration is–as the name implies–hydrate. Drinking water is good but, however, will not supply your body the electrolytes it needs. To best hydrate, it is best to drink

electrolyte solutions (oral rehydration solutions). These can be purchased at your local pharmacy. Pedialyte, Gatorade, or other common sports drinks are cost-effective alternatives.

Avoid acidic drinks and milk. Milk is known to exacerbate stomach problems, and acidic drinks such as orange juice or coffee can cause stomach aches.

Don’t drink too fast. Every hear of the saying “too much of a good thing”? When suffering from Gastroenteritis, drinking too much water can actually induce vomiting, as the body may reject too much liquid at a given time. For children, we recommend a teaspoon of your chosen beverage every 4 to 5 minutes. Or, advise them to take small sips over time.

Introduce food slowly. Once you are able to keep down liquid, you are able to introduce small portions of bland food. Bananas, bread, rice, applesauce, and toast are good options for beginning the introduction to food again. And, once you can keep those foods down, you are able to slowly introduce meats and cooked vegetables–but be sure to keep portions of these small, until you’re certain they will not cause problems

Avoid fatty foods. Foods with too much fat, acid, spice, or fried foods are known to exacerbate symptoms.

Avoid over-the-counter medications. Time is the best medicine. When you or your child are sick, your best bet is to avoid medications. OTC medications, despite what you may believe, are not effective in treating Gastroenteritis and may worsen symptoms. It may be hard or uncomfortable to purge your body during the course of the illness, but it is your body’s way of rejecting the virus, and medication will only impede that process.

Medication has one exception: to combat fever. If your temperature is rising, acetaminophen or ibuprofen are good for bringing it back down. Other than that, avoid medication.

If you suffer from an autoimmune disease and contract Gastroenteritis, or experience any of the following symptoms, please seek immediate medical help:

  • Sunken eyes
  • Lightheadedness
  • Extreme thirst or dry mouth
  • Lack of normal skin elasticity
  • Fewer tears
  • Infrequent or less urination

How do I prevent Gastroenteritis?

Gastroenteritis is preventable in infants and children through two early Rotavirus vaccinations. In adults, it’s best to mind our habits to avoid getting ill:

Frequently wash your hands, especially after using the restroom and before handling food. If you are unable to access soap and water, hand sanitizer is a great substitution.

Don’t share utensils, plates, or towels. This one is sort of a no-brainer: if someone in your household is suffering from Gastroenteritis, avoid sharing common items with them. If necessary, wash and disinfect them before usage.

Don’t eat raw or undercooked food. Washing fruit and vegetables thoroughly also plays a part in preventing Gastroenteritis.

When traveling, avoid unbottled water. This includes tap water and ice cubes.

What is Food Poisoning?

While the symptoms may seem identical to Gastroenteritis, the condition itself is different. Food Poisoning is a food-borne disease caused by the ingestion of food containing a toxin, chemical, or infectious agent.

Symptoms of Food Poisoning include:

  • Abdominal cramps
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Headaches
  • Mild fever

Like Gastroenteritis, sufferers of this disease are prone to dehydration. If you experience symptoms of dehydration such as dry mouth, extreme thirst, lightheadedness, or dry skin, we advise you call a doctor or visit DOCS Urgent Care for immediate attention.

What causes Food Poisoning?

Unlike Gastroenteritis, Food Poisoning is restricted to the ingestion of contagens. However, it can be caused by a wider range of sources. Bacteria, viruses, and parasites are all known to cause Food Poisoning.

  • Ingestion of poorly cooked or stored fish (Scombroid or Ciguatera)
  • Poorly cooked or raw rice (Bacillus cereus)
  • Meat stored in an environment that is too warm (Clostridium perfringens)
  • Handling of food without washing hands (Shigella)
  • Poorly cooked chicken or eggs (Salmonella)
  • Contaminated saltwater shellfish (Vibrio parahaemolyticus)
  • Contact during travel (E.coli)
  • Contaminated drinking water (Vibrio cholerae)
  • Or any number of parasites (Giardiasis, Amoebiasis, Trichinosis, etc.)

Food Poisoning can occur due to the presence of Bacteria, a Parasite, Viruses, Protozoans, or Prions. You are least likely to contract Protozoans or Prions, but they are contagens to be aware of.

How is Food Poisoning treated?

Food Poisoning can usually be treated at home. Most cases will resolve themselves within 24 hours. Much of the treatment for Food Poisoning is the same as Gastroenteritis. The crucial difference, however, comes from when you’re best advised to visit your nearest DOCS Urgent Care or the ER.

If you suffer from an autoimmune disease and contract Food Poisoning, please seek immediate medical attention. Food poisoning can be considered life threatening and requires immediate treatment when:

  • Blood in stool or urine
  • Fever higher than 101.5°F
  • Diarrhea that lasts longer than 72 hours
  • Severe dehydration (dry mouth, passing little urine, etc.)
  • Difficulty speaking or seeing
  • Repeated vomiting preventing replacement of fluids

How do I prevent Food Poisoning?

The simplest answer is to be mindful of what you eat, and how you prepare your food.

Wash your hands often. Wash hands before cooking or cleaning, and always after handling raw meat.

Clean dishes and utensils frequently, especially if they have had contact with raw meat, poultry, fish, or eggs.

Use a thermometer when cooking. It’s good to be mindful of the temperature you are cooking meat at, to avoid under-cooking. If you are using frozen foods, be sure to cook them for the full recommended time on the package.

Beef requires at least 160°F (71°C).

Poultry requires at least 165°F (73.8°C).

Fish requires at least 145°F (62.7°C).

Refrigerate perishable foods within 2 hours. Keep your fridge set to around 40°F (4.4°C), and your freezer at or below 0°F (-18°C).

Drink treated or chlorinated water. Do not drink water from streams or wells that are untreated.

Do not use foods that are: outdated, have a broken seal, unusual odor, or “bad” taste.

So what’s the difference?

The difference between the two is simple: time. Similar to a cold and flu, the major determining factor in what you’ve contracted lays in how long you have it. Typically, Food Poisoning will resolve itself within the span of 24 hours. Conversely, a “stomach bug” will span about 3 to 5 days.

In short, you’d be taking more time off of work from a stomach bug than food poisoning.

Think You Have the ‘Stomach Flu’?

You started your day like any other. You got up, got dressed, went to work and felt normal until it hit you in the middle of your team meeting: that telltale rumble and the mad dash to the bathroom. You’ve been sidelined by diarrhea and vomiting.

Your co-workers say you have the “stomach flu,” but that miserable combination of nausea, vomiting and diarrhea is not the flu. It’s gastroenteritis, an infection in your bowels that causes your stomach and intestines to become irritated or inflamed and can be caused by a virus or food poisoning.

How to Know It’s Gastroenteritis

Symptoms include three or more loose stools per day, stomach pain and nausea. Some people experience vomiting, and about half will have a fever. That’s a much different slate of symptoms from influenza, which often involves congestion, runny nose, cough, muscle aches, chills and fever.

Gastroenteritis can be viral or bacterial. “It is hard to tell which one you have because the symptoms are similar for both,” says Amy Shipley, MD, a family medicine doctor with UNC Physicians Network. “Unless you do stool studies and cultures, you can’t differentiate bacteria from a virus in most situations.”

Most people will have symptoms for one to three days, but symptoms can last up to two weeks. Salmonella, an infection caused by bacteria called salmonellosis, can last a week, and the rotavirus, a highly contagious viral infection, can last even longer.

When to See a Doctor

Dr. Shipley recommends patients see a doctor if symptoms persist for more than one week, or if they are elderly or pregnant, losing weight, or have severe abdominal pain, blood in their stool or other chronic conditions such as diabetes or heart disease.

Treatment for viral and bacterial gastroenteritis is the same. Dr. Shipley recommends patients get plenty of rest, eat what they can and drink fluids to avoid dehydration.

“Eat what you can eat. You don’t necessarily have to eat a bland diet, because if all you can keep down is a milkshake, then drink a milkshake,” Dr. Shipley says. “Usually, though, most people can only tolerate a bland diet of foods like crackers.”

Dr. Shipley also recommends drinking a rehydration solution such as Pedialyte for kids and Hydralyte for adults. She says Gatorade is fine but tends to have a lot of sugar, which can make diarrhea worse.

“I tell my patients with diabetes, ‘If that’s all you can keep down, I’m OK with you drinking Gatorade for three days,’” Dr. Shipley says. “Drinking Gatorade is better than getting dehydrated because you can’t keep anything down.”

She recommends drinking broth because it is calorie-dense. She also says to avoid returning to work or school too early.

“You have to stay home and rest. Your body is trying to heal,” Dr. Shipley says. “You also don’t want to go back to work too soon because then you can spread it to everybody else.”

Preventing Gastroenteritis

To help prevent the stomach bug, wash your hands often, especially when you’re out in public. Dr. Shipley recommends wiping off grocery carts and washing surfaces such as countertops and computer keyboards at home if a family member gets sick. Also, clean your bathrooms with bleach.

“There are a few viruses, such as the norovirus, that need bleach,” she says. “Also watch the news and pay attention to what’s going on in your community, because if there’s an outbreak of the norovirus, don’t go to places that are self-serve because people are using those utensils and laying them right back down on the food, and that’s just asking to get sick.”

Need a doctor? Find one near you.

Diarrhoea and flu

An introduction to diarrhoea and flu

Diarrhoea is the passing of frequent watery stools. Although it is not the most common symptom of the flu, it can occur with many viral infections, and can leave you feeling weak and dehydrated. Generally speaking, diarrhoea associated with the flu should clear up within a few days, but if it lasts longer than this, it may be worth seeking medical attention.

Why am I experiencing diarrhoea with the flu?

The flu can cause diarrhoea, particularly in children, or those who already suffer with digestive disorders, such as diverticulitis. It is more commonly seen with swine or avian flu.

When you are unwell, your digestive system can become more sensitive and less able to properly break down food and absorb nutrients efficiently. This can result in diarrhoea as food and fluid passes too quickly through the bowel.

Are there home remedies to help me?

While the last thing you probably want to do when you have diarrhoea is to eat and drink, remember that severe diarrhoea can cause you to become very weak and dehydrated. It is important to drink plenty of water as you are losing a lot of fluid through bouts of diarrhoea.

Even if you have very little appetite during the first couple of days, try to eat a little dry bread or toast, to keep your blood sugar levels up. Some plain yoghurt should not aggravate your condition, and may even reduce symptoms of diarrhoea. It is important not eat sugary foods, fatty foods, or those which will aggravate an already sensitive digestive system.

Give yourself plenty of rest, as diarrhoea can cause you to feel weak. Exerting yourself while you are suffering from flu and diarrhoea will slow down your recovery.

What about herbal remedies?

The most effective herbal remedy is one which will support your immune system, helping it to fight off the flu virus. For example, licensed herbal product Echinaforce® Echinacea tinctures or tablets, contains fresh extracts of the Echinacea plant, a plant which has long traditional use in aiding the function of the immune system, helping to prevent infection or to shorten the course of illness.

Additionally, some people find Tormentil effective. It is a herb which has traditionally been used to settle an upset stomach and to ease diarrhoea. It is one of Alfred Vogel’s original formulations, available in tincture form.

Are there conventional medicines to help with diarrhoea?

A doctor is likely to be concerned that your diarrhoea is causing you to experience dehydration. The risk of this is higher in children, the elderly, or after prolonged bouts of diarrhoea. If this is the case, he may recommend,an oral rehydration solution which will replace essential salt, glucose and minerals.

Anti-diarrhoeal medications may also be recommended, particularly if your diarrhoea has persisted for more than a few days. They work by slowing the movement of muscles in the gut, and usually help to shorten the duration of your diarrhoea by around 24 hours.

In order to help you to fight off the flu, your doctor may suggest an anti-viral drug, Oseltamivir or Zanamivir. However, this treatment is not appropriate for everyone, and you should discuss with your doctor the possible side-effects.

7 Signs You Might Have the Stomach Flu

It’s flu season again. And by that we mean not just the nasty flu that bothers your respiratory system, but also the “flu” that rumbles your tummy. Technically, the “stomach flu” is not actually influenza, which is caused by a virus that only affects your airways. So-called stomach flu symptoms show up in your gastrointestinal system.

“The ‘stomach flu’ is a viral illness that affects the gastrointestinal tract, more accurately referred to as ‘viral gastroenteritis,’” says Elena Ivanina, DO, MPH, a gastroenterologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. “It is not the same as the ‘flu’ that we all get vaccinated for each year, which is the influenza virus and only affects the nose, throat, and lungs.”

Instead, the stomach flu is caused by other viruses, namely norovirus (known for ruining cruises), as well as rotavirus, adenovirus, and astrovirus. You get the bug from someone who is sick, say by touching something they touched and then touching your mouth or nose or by sharing their germy utensil. Stomach flu viruses can also be spread through contaminated water or food–in which case you’d probably call the resulting symptoms food poisoning. (Stomach bug symptoms can also be caused by bacteria or parasites, but it’s much less common.)

RELATED: How Do You Get the Stomach Flu?

Stomach flu symptoms

Symptoms of the stomach flu usually show up one to three days after you’re infected. Some cases are mild, lasting 24 or 48 hours, although some can linger for up to 10 days.

Watery diarrhea is one of the first signs of the stomach flu. This is because the infection prevents your large intestine from retaining fluid. Instead, all that liquid flushes out in the form of loose, watery poop. “It’s typically three or more times a day and sometimes a large volume,” says Sean Drake, MD, a general internist with Henry Ford Health System in Sterling Heights, Michigan.

The watery stool usually doesn’t smell and isn’t bloody, says Roopa Vemulapalli, MD, associate professor of internal medicine and a digestive diseases expert at UT Southwestern in Dallas. “If you see blood, that’s definitely much more of a problem,” she says–and a sign you should head to the emergency room. People with weakened immune systems or who were taking antibiotics before getting ill may have worse stomach flu symptoms, Dr. Vemulapalli adds.

If you have the stomach flu, watery diarrhea will be accompanied by nausea and vomiting about 70 to 80% of the time, although it’s possible “just one end or the other” will be affected, Dr. Drake says. And while you no doubt want these unpleasant symptoms to go away right now, they’re actually a good sign: Your body is trying to get rid of the bad stuff.

Not surprisingly, with your body furiously flushing fluids and more out of your system, chances are you’ll feel pretty weak. Abdominal cramps or abdominal pain are also common as “the gastrointestinal system trys to push the toxins out,” says Dr. Vemulapalli.

But the main danger from the stomach flu is dehydration. Signs of dehydration include feeling very thirsty, having a dry mouth, not urinating very often, and, when you do urinate, producing dark yellow pee. Dehydration may even make your skin bounce back more slowly when you press it. You can also feel dizzy, lightheaded, or confused if you’re dehydrated.

“It’s very important to maintain fluid status and replace fluids,” Dr. Vemulapalli says. “Patients do feel better .” Stick to water and clear liquids like chicken broth and juice.

You may also have a low-grade fever, which is usually nothing to worry about–but a higher one might be. A fever higher than 102 may be a sign dehydration is becoming severe, Dr. Drake says. (It’s also more common with actual influenza.)

RELATED: Is It Food Poisoning–or the Stomach Flu? Here’s How to Tell

Stomach flu treatment

If the symptoms above sound familiar, you might be wondering what to do about your case of the stomach flu. As far as treatment goes, you usually just need to let the stomach flu run its course (although antibiotics may help with bacterial stomach flu) and keep up with the extra fluids.

Usually, you don’t even need over-the-counter remedies. “Most patients shouldn’t take anti-motility drugs ,” says Dr. Drake, since stomach flu typically gets better on its own. Viral infections usually come and go quickly: Norovirus generally lasts about two days while rotavirus symptom can linger for up to eight, says Dr. Vemulapalli. If your symptoms are severe or prolonged, then it’s time for meds, Dr. Drake says.

If you have a high fever, see blood in your stool, are losing a lot of weight, have severe abdominal pain, or can’t keep anything down for two days, go to the emergency room. That’s especially true if you’re in a high-risk group. “We’re a little more concerned with older patients because they’re more prone to getting dehydrated quickly,” Dr. Drake says.

While kids can get vaccinated against rotavirus, your best bet at preventing stomach flu is the tried-and-true: Wash your hands (with soap and water or alcohol-based sanitizers), disinfect any surfaces that might be contaminated, and avoid people who are sick as much as possible.

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Treatment of Viral Gastroenteritis (“Stomach Flu”)

How can I treat viral gastroenteritis?

In most cases, people with viral gastroenteritis get better on their own without medical treatment. You can treat viral gastroenteritis by replacing lost fluids and electrolytes to prevent dehydration. In some cases, over-the-counter medicines may help relieve your symptoms.

Research shows that following a restricted diet does not help treat viral gastroenteritis. When you have viral gastroenteritis, you may vomit after you eat or lose your appetite for a short time. When your appetite returns, you can most often go back to eating your normal diet, even if you still have diarrhea. Find tips on what to eat when you have viral gastroenteritis.

If your child has symptoms of viral gastroenteritis, such as vomiting or diarrhea, don’t hesitate to call a doctor for advice.

Replace lost fluids and electrolytes

When you have viral gastroenteritis, you need to replace lost fluids and electrolytes to prevent dehydration or treat mild dehydration. You should drink plenty of liquids. If vomiting is a problem, try sipping small amounts of clear liquids.

Most adults with viral gastroenteritis can replace fluids and electrolytes with liquids such as

  • water
  • fruit juices
  • sports drinks
  • broths

Eating saltine crackers can also help replace electrolytes.

If your child has viral gastroenteritis, you should give your child an oral rehydration solution—such as Pedialyte, Naturalyte, Infalyte, and CeraLyte—as directed to replace lost fluids and electrolytes. Oral rehydration solutions are liquids that contain glucose and electrolytes. Talk with a doctor about giving these solutions to your infant. Infants should drink breast milk or formula as usual.

Older adults, adults with a weakened immune system, and adults with severe diarrhea or symptoms of dehydration should also drink oral rehydration solutions.

Over-the-counter medicines

In some cases, adults can take over-the-counter medicines such as loperamide (Imodium) and bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol, Kaopectate) to treat diarrhea caused by viral gastroenteritis.

These medicines can be unsafe for infants and children. Talk with a doctor before giving your child an over-the-counter medicine.

If you have bloody diarrhea or fever—signs of infections with bacteria or parasites—don’t use over-the-counter medicines to treat diarrhea. See a doctor for treatment.

How do doctors treat viral gastroenteritis?

Your doctor may prescribe medicine to control severe vomiting. Doctors don’t prescribe antibiotics to treat viral gastroenteritis. Antibiotics don’t work for viral infections.

In some cases, your doctor may recommend probiotics. Probiotics are live microbes, most often bacteria, that are like the ones you normally have in your digestive tract. Studies suggest that some probiotics may help shorten a case of diarrhea. Researchers are still studying the use of probiotics to treat viral gastroenteritis. For safety reasons, talk with your doctor before using probiotics or any other complementary or alternative medicines or practices.

Anyone with signs or symptoms of dehydration should see a doctor right away. Doctors may need to treat people with severe dehydration in a hospital.

How can I prevent viral gastroenteritis?

You can take several steps to keep from getting or spreading infections that cause viral gastroenteritis. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water

  • after using the bathroom
  • after changing diapers
  • before and after handling, preparing, or eating food

You can clean surfaces that may have come into contact with infected stool or vomit, such as countertops and changing tables, with a mixture of 5 to 25 tablespoons of household bleach and 1 gallon of water.7 If clothes or linens may have come into contact with an infected person’s stool or vomit, you should wash them with detergent for the longest cycle available and machine dry them. To protect yourself from infection, wear rubber gloves while handling the soiled laundry and wash your hands afterward.7

If you have viral gastroenteritis, avoid handling and preparing food for others while you are sick and for 2 days after your symptoms stop.7 People who have viral gastroenteritis may spread the virus to any food they handle, especially if they do not thoroughly wash their hands. Contaminated water may also spread a virus to foods before they are harvested. For example, contaminated fruits, vegetables, and oysters have been linked to norovirus outbreaks. Wash fruits and vegetables before using them, and thoroughly cook oysters and other shellfish.7 Find tips to help keep food safe.

The flu vaccine does not protect against viral gastroenteritis. Although some people call viral gastroenteritis “stomach flu,” influenza (flu) viruses do not cause viral gastroenteritis. However, rotavirus vaccines can prevent viral gastroenteritis caused by rotavirus.

Rotavirus Vaccines

Two vaccines, which infants receive by mouth, are approved to protect against rotavirus infections8

  • RotaTeq: Infants receive three doses, at ages 2 months, 4 months, and 6 months
  • Rotarix: Infants receive this vaccine in two doses, at ages 2 months and 4 months

For the rotavirus vaccine to be most effective, infants should receive the first dose by 15 weeks of age. Infants should receive all doses by 8 months of age.

If you have a baby, talk with your baby’s doctor about rotavirus vaccination.

Stomach Bugs Suck. This No-Medicine Method Can Help

She recommends taking kudzu with unsweetened apple juice, as apple pectin also helps coat the stomach. It can be taken as a tea or as an extract in capsule form. Clinical herbalist Thomas Easley recommends 1,000 – 3,000 milligrams up to three times per day.

Hydration, hydration, hydration

“One thing commonly overlooked in fighting off stomach viruses is the importance of proper hydration,” says Wayne Anthony, founder of WaterFilterData.org.

“During a stomach virus, you lose a lot of fluids due to vomiting and diarrhea. But those aren’t the only causes of dehydration. Since you aren’t hungry (and can’t keep food down) not eating also adds to the dehydration.” Then, the dehydration itself will make you feel even worse, so it’s incredibly important to keep your fluid intake up while you’re sick.

“Don’t just guzzle water down, as this will make it more difficult to keep it down. Instead, try slow slips to ease the stomach,” says Anthony. Even if you’re incredibly thirsty, if you’re still throwing up a lot, you need to drink slow.

Have a sip every few minutes so you don’t trigger another round of vomiting. You can also drink sports drinks like Gatorade to make sure you’re getting salt and the other electrolytes you need.

If you really can’t keep anything down, Anthony recommends sucking on ice chips. The cold will probably feel nice (especially if you’re feverish) and the slow stream of water usually won’t trigger your gag reflex.

Even after the worst of the illness has past, keep drinking water! The best thing for a stomach bug is staying hydrated and if you stop drinking the second you stop vomiting, you’ll still feel dehydrated and miserable for days.

Keep a bottle or glass of water next to you at all times and drink throughout the day. Sure, you might still end up in the bathroom a lot (though just going pee will be quite a relief once the vomiting/diarrhea train has stopped), but you’ll recover much faster.

What to do with the stomach flu: Remedies for kids

The stomach flu, also called viral gastroenteritis, is not to be confused with the flu caused by the influenza virus. The stomach flu is caused by viruses, such as norovirus and rotavirus, that irritate and infect the digestive system. It can be a common illness among kids, who may not be as good at washing their hands as adults and spend more time touching the same objects as other kids.

Unfortunately for little ones, the stomach flu can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Isabel Rojas, M.D., a pediatric gastroenterologist at Children’s Health℠ and Assistant Professor at UT Southwestern, shares the best remedies for stomach flu in kids and ways to help settle your child’s stomach.

How do you treat a child’s stomach virus?

The best ways to treat the stomach flu in kids are hydration and rest. “For hydration, use a rehydration solution that’s available in any store and over the counter,” says Dr. Rojas. “Start with small sips and increase gradually, so they don’t vomit it up.”

Water alone may not be enough to rehydrate kids safely, especially younger children. Kids lose electrolytes when they vomit or have diarrhea. This can lead to low sodium in the blood, a dangerous situation. A rehydration solution, like Pedialyte, replenishes fluids and electrolytes. Broth can also be helpful.

You can also make a rehydration solution at home by combining 4 ¼ cups of water, 6 teaspoons of sugar and a ½ teaspoon of salt.

Dr. Rojas also recommends lots of rest for children. Rest can help the digestive system settle and heal.

Does medicine help the stomach flu?

Though you may want to give your child a medicine to help with stomach flu symptoms, Dr. Rojas recommends against it. Because the stomach flu is caused by a virus, antibiotics will not help.

“Usually we just need to let the virus run its own course,” says Dr. Rojas. “Trying to take medications can prolong symptoms and make them worse.”

Dr. Rojas says the only exception to the no-medicine rule is the appropriate dose of acetaminophen if your child has a fever.

What do you feed a child with the stomach flu?

Once your child has stopped vomiting, they can start to eat foods again. The best foods after the stomach flu are the BRAT diet of bananas, rice, applesauce and toast.

“These foods are very easy to digest,” says Dr. Rojas. “Children can also have crackers, or grilled or boiled chicken.”

Children should avoid greasy, heavy or spicy foods for a few days after they experience vomiting. Avoiding dairy could also be beneficial due to a transient lactose intolerance after stomach flu, though infants should still breastfeed or have formula if able to tolerate.

Certain drinks, like apple juice or carbonated beverages, can make vomiting or diarrhea worse, so it’s best to stick to rehydration solution or plain water.

If your child has nausea or vomiting again, it’s best to stop the food until their stomach can settle.

How long does the stomach flu last in kids?

A stomach flu usually lasts between one and three days. Vomiting typically lasts for less than 24 hours.

However, if your child’s symptoms continue for more than 5 days, you should call your pediatrician. You should also call your pediatrician if your child has:

  • A high fever
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea or vomiting with blood
  • Signs of dehydration like not urinating, dry skin, no tears or rapid breathing

With the right rest and rehydration, your child should make a full recovery in just a few days. Dr. Rojas says they can even return to school once the diarrhea has stopped and they have not had a fever for 24 hours.

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Norovirus Fact Sheet

Revised June 2009

Download a print version of this document:
Norovirus Fact Sheet (PDF)
Spanish (PDF)

What is norovirus?

Noroviruses are a group of viruses (previously known as Norwalk-like viruses) that can cause gastroenteritis, an inflammation of the stomach and intestines. Norovirus is the leading cause of foodborne illness outbreaks in Minnesota.

This infection is often mistakenly referred to as the “stomach flu”. Norovirus is not related to the flu (influenza), which is a common respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus.

What are the symptoms?

Common symptoms of norovirus infection include vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramping. Less common symptoms can include low-grade fever or chills, headache, and muscle aches. Symptoms usually begin 1 or 2 days after ingesting the virus, but may appear as early as 12 hours after exposure. The illness typically comes on suddenly. The infected person may feel very sick and vomit often, sometimes without warning, many times a day. Sometimes people infected with norovirus have no symptoms at all, but can still pass the virus to others.

How long does it last?

Most people recover in 1 or 2 days and have no long-term health effects. Dehydration can be a concern in the very young, the elderly, or people with weakened immune systems. Occasionally infected people may experience milder symptoms for a week or more.

How is it spread?

Noroviruses are very contagious. They are found in the stool (feces) or vomit of infected people. From there, noroviruses are transferred to food, water, or surfaces by the hands of infected people who have not washed adequately after using the bathroom.

People become infected with norovirus by:

  • Eating food or drinking liquids contaminated by an infected person.
  • Eating uncooked shellfish that has been harvested from contaminated waters.
  • Touching contaminated surfaces or objects and then touching their mouth or eating without washing their hands first.

What should I do if I have symptoms?

  • Drink plenty of fluids so you don’t become dehydrated.
  • Wash your hands often and do not prepare food for others.
  • Contact your health care provider (but remember that antibiotics don’t treat viruses).

How can I prevent norovirus infections?

  • Wash your hands with warm, soapy water for 20 seconds
    • After using the bathroom
    • After changing diapers
    • Before preparing foods
    • Before eating
      • Wash your hands more often when someone in your household is sick.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces with a household bleach solution immediately after vomiting or diarrheal accidents.
  • Steam oysters before eating them.
  • Avoid preparing food for others while you have symptoms and for at least 3 days after you recover.

To report a suspected foodborne illness, call the Minnesota Department of Health Foodborne Illness Hotline at 1-877-FOOD-ILL (or 651-201-5655 from the Twin Cities).

Printable version

Norovirus (Stomach Virus): Facts and Details

Norovirus is a contagious disease caused by a group of viruses (caliciviruses). Common names for norovirus in-clude stomach virus, “stomach flu,” or food poisoning. Norovirus is not related to the flu (influenza), which is a respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus.

How common is norovirus?

Norovirus is the leading cause of foodborne illness (food poisoning) in the United States. There are many different norovirus strains, so a person can be ill with norovirus more than once.

How do people become infected?

Norovirus is highly contagious and can spread easily from person to person. Both stool (poop) and vomit are infectious. Ways people become infected include:

  • Eating or drinking contaminated food or liquids
  • Touching contaminated surfaces or objects, and then placing hands or other objects near the face
  • Having direct contact with another person who is in-fected, including changing an infant’s diaper.

What are the signs and symptoms of norovirus?

Symptoms include sudden onset of nausea, vomiting, diar-rhea, and some stomach cramping which may be worse in children. Other symptoms include low-grade fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, and fatigue.

How long can I spread norovirus?

After exposure, symptoms appear in 12 to 48 hours and last about one to two days. People with norovirus are con-tagious from symptom onset until at least two days (up to two weeks) after they recover.

How is norovirus treated?

Norovirus is caused by a virus, so antibiotics won’t work. There is no antiviral medication available for norovirus, but people should drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydra-tion.

Who is at risk for severe disease?

Anyone can become infected with norovirus, but children less than five years old, people with weakened immune systems, and the elderly are most at risk for se-vere disease.

How can you prevent norovirus?

There is no vaccine for norovirus. Prevent infection by the following methods:

  • Wash your hands after using the toilet, changing dia-pers, and preparing or eating food.
  • Wash fruit and vegetables thoroughly.
  • Immediately remove and wash norovirus contaminat-ed clothing or linens after an episode of illness. Use hot water and soap.
  • Thoroughly clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces immediately after an episode of illness by using a bleach-based household cleaner. Visit the EPA website (www.epa.gov) for more information abut disinfect-ants that work against norovirus.
  • People who have norovirus should not prepare food or drinks for others until 48 hours after symptoms re-solve. Throw away all food touched by an ill person.

The Difference Between Stomach Flu and the Flu

Whether you call it the stomach flu or, more precisely, viral gastroenteritis, the highly contagious intestinal infection is no fun. Symptoms include watery diarrhea, stomach pain, vomiting, muscle aches, and mild headache that can last for several miserable days.

Because stomach flu, or gastroenteritis, is commonly referred to as “flu,” it’s easy to confuse it with influenza.

But the two illnesses are not the same.

Here’s what you need to know about stomach flu and gastroenteritis symptoms and how they differ from influenza.

What Is Stomach Flu? (gastroeneritis)

Stomach flu is when your stomach and intestines become inflamed and irritated.

Although the causes of stomach flu range from bacteria and parasites to food reactions and unclean water, close to half of all gastroenteritis cases in adults — and even more in children — are caused by a virus.

For this reason, stomach flu cannot be treated with antibiotics.

Stomach flu usually develops after contact with an infected person or consuming contaminated food or water. Stomach flu and gastroenteritis symptoms often last for three to seven days and sometimes up to 10 days.

The most common form of the stomach flu is norovirus, which causes 19 million to 21 million illnesses each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

What is the Flu? (influenza)

While the stomach flu affects the stomach, influenza only affects the respiratory system (nose, throat, and lungs). Symptoms of the flu include fever, muscle aches, sore throat, and cough, and influenza can be prevented with a flu shot. Thankfully, people with the flu usually don’t have gastroenteritis symptoms.

How to Treat Stomach Flu

When you’re feeling miserable with stomach flu and other gastroenteritis symptoms, the last thing you want to hear is,

“You just have to wait it out.”

Unfortunately, there’s no cure or treatment for the stomach flu.

There are, however, some things you can do to relieve symptoms:

  • Stay hydrated by taking small sips of clear liquids, such as water or broth.

  • Avoid caffeinated drinks like coffee and black tea, as well as alcohol, which can make symptoms worse.

  • Stay away from foods that contain dairy, fiber, grease, and spices.

If you can’t hold down fluids, gastroenteritis can lead to dehydration.

Symptoms of dehydration include weakness, dizziness upon standing, rapid heartrate and decreased urination.

Dehydration can be treated at urgent care centers like GoHealth Urgent Care with IV fluids and anti-nausea medications.

BUT if you have a fever or severe localized abdominal pain or pain concentrated in one area, you may be sent to the Emergency Department for advanced imaging and lab testing to make sure it’s not something more serious.

How to Prevent Stomach Flu

Gastroenteritis is highly contagious. If you know it’s going around, the experts at GoHealth Urgent Care recommend taking extra precautions, like washing your hands even more than usual and avoiding close contact with infected people.

Here are some other preventive measures — not just to avoid the stomach flu but to stay healthy in general:

  • Use the dishwasher instead of washing dishes by hand.

  • Use soap and water instead of hand sanitizer. Also, wash your hands for as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice.

  • If you have a sick family member, ask him or her to use one bathroom while the rest of the household uses another.

  • Wipe off shopping cart handles.

  • Clean countertops and surfaces with a disinfectant spray, and wash clothes and bedding regularly.

GoHealth Urgent Care partners with these regional healthcare providers:

  • Northwell Health-GoHealth Urgent Care in New York
  • Dignity Health-GoHealth Urgent Care in San Francisco
  • Legacy-GoHealth Urgent Care in Portland & Vancouver
  • Hartford HealthCare-GoHealth Urgent Care in Connecticut
  • Mercy-GoHealth Urgent Care in Arkansas, Springfield, St. Louis & Oklahoma
  • Novant Health-GoHealth Urgent Care in North Carolina

Gastroenteritis (stomach flu)

The main symptoms of gastroenteritis are the following:

  • Diarrhea: at least 3 liquid or semi-liquid stools every 24 hours or stool that is more abundant and frequent than usual
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Other symptoms may sometimes appear:

  • Mild fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain

Symptoms of gastroenteritis usually last 24 to 72 hours. However, they can last up to 10 days if the stomach flu began while travelling abroad or upon your return.

Persons with gastroenteritis are usually contagious when showing symptoms, and most particularly so when symptoms are severe. They may be contagious even a few weeks after symptoms have subsided.

If you have symptoms of gastroenteritis, it is important that you stay home to heal and to avoid transmitting the illness to other people, until all symptoms have disappeared. Should you have questions regarding your condition, contact Info-Santé 811.

When to consult

Gastroenteritis is generally not serious. Most people take care of themselves at home and self-heal without taking medicines. However, in some cases, you should consult a doctor or contact Info-Santé 811.

Call Info-Santé 811

People likely to experience complications should contact Info-Santé 811. Some cases also require evaluation by a nurse. For instance, you should call Info-Santé 811 if you or your child are in one of the following situations:

  • You have diarrhea and your stools are frequent and abundant or they contain a little blood
  • You are unable to drink or keep fluids down
  • Your diarrhea starts while travelling abroad or upon your return
  • You are unsure whether or not to see a doctor

A nurse will give you specific advice and tell you whether or not you need to see a doctor right away.

Consult a doctor the same day

You should see a doctor the same day if you or your child are in one of the following situations:

  • You have diarrhea which does not subside after 48 hours despite following instructions for rehydrating and eating when you have gastroenteritis
  • You have diarrhea and fever (over 38 ºC or 100,4 ºF) for over 48 hours
  • You have been vomiting for 48 hours and the situation does not improve despite following instructions for rehydrating and eating when you have gastroenteritis
  • You have diarrhea that has persisted for over 1 week. However, if your diarrhea started during a trip abroad or upon your return, it could last more than a week

You can find a resource near you offering medical consultation on the same or next day. To learn more or to find one of those resources, consult the Finding a resource offering medical consultation on the same or next day page.

Go to emergency immediately

You should go to emergency immediately if you or your child are in one of the following situations:

  • You have a lot of blood in your stool, or your stool is black
  • You have diarrhea with intense abdominal pain
  • You have diarrhea, extreme thirst, have not urinated in 12 hours
  • You are vomiting frequently, and it does not slow down after 4 to 6 hours
  • There is stool or blood (red in colour or ground coffee-like) in your vomit
  • Your general health is deteriorating (weakness, drowsiness, irritability, confusion)

Symptoms of stomache flu

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