Stomach Flu and Stomach Virus, Symptoms, Treatment and How to Avoid It

Stomach Flu and Stomach Virus

A Stomach Flu or Stomach Virus is a viral infection of your intestines. The more accurate term for the stomach flu is viral gastroenteritis, because it is not related to the influenza viruses that cause the respiratory illnesses we see in fall and winter. At Everest Urgent Care, we want you to understand stomach virus symptoms, treatment and tips to avoid this common illness.

Common symptoms for a stomach flu/virus include:

  • loose, watery diarrhea
  • abdominal cramping
  • nausea
  • vomiting

Despite its name, the stomach flu is not caused by the same virus that causes influenza. However, there are several other viruses that can cause the stomach flu.

A stomach flu is contagious, which means it can spread from one person to another.

How long are you contagious with stomach flu?

Typically, it takes a few days after exposure for symptoms to appear. However, this can depend on the specific virus.

According to researchers, symptoms of norovirus, rotavirus, and sapovirus usually show up 1 to 2 days after exposure, while it can take 4 to 5 days for people to develop symptoms of astrovirus. Symptoms of adenovirus mostly show up 5 to 6 days after exposure, but they can take anywhere from 2 to 14 days to appear.

Symptoms of the stomach flu typically last 1 to 3 days. Infections in those with higher risk may last longer. The virus is most likely to spread from the time your symptoms first appear until several days after your symptoms have gone away. Some stomach viruses, such as rotavirus, can be transmitted before symptoms begin. Even after your symptoms have cleared up, the virus may also still shed in your stool for several weeks. For example, norovirus can be shed in stool for 2 weeks or longer and rotavirus can be found in stool for up to 10 days.

Because the infection may still be transmitted to others even after you have completely recovered, it is vital that you practice good hand hygiene.

What Causes a Stomach Virus / Stomach Flu?

There are several types of viruses that can cause viral gastroenteritis. The most common of these is norovirus.

  • Noroviruses. Noroviruses are the most common cause of stomach flu worldwide, accounting for around 50 percent of cases and over 90 percent of outbreaks. These are very contagious. People typically contract the infection by consuming contaminated food or water. You can also get it through indirect contact, such as touching a surface after a person with norovirus touched it. Restaurants and other food service settings are responsible for more norovirus outbreaks than any other type of setting.
  • Rotaviruses. Rotavirus is more common in children than in adults. Rotaviruses can live on surfaces and can also be transmitted through indirect contact or airborne transmission. Most people with rotavirus contract it after handling the stool of someone with the infection. While rotavirus still affects many children, cases and outbreaks have seen a steep decline since a vaccine was introduced in 2006.
  • Adenoviruses. Like rotavirus, adenovirus infections primarily affect young children. However, this infection is less common. Adenoviruses are airborne. You can also get the infection through personal contact such as shaking hands or by touching a contaminated surface.
  • Astroviruses. Astroviruses also mainly affect children. They are transmitted via the fecal-oral route. Drinking contaminated water can result in an astrovirus infection.
  • Sapoviruses. Sapoviruses belong to the same virus family as noroviruses. Consuming contaminated food or water can cause an infection.

Are you at risk for a stomach virus?

While anyone can get a stomach virus, some people are at a higher risk of developing severe illness including:

  • infants and young children
  • older adults
  • individuals with a weakened immune system

Where and when can you get a stomach virus?

The risk of a stomach flu outbreak increases when large groups of people are in close contact with each other including places like:

  • cruise ships
  • restaurants, buffets or banquets
  • care facilities such as daycare centers and nursing homes
  • college campuses
  • military bases

The viruses that cause stomach flu are present in stool and vomit. These viruses can contaminate food, water and surfaces — especially if a person does not practice proper hand hygiene after using the restroom.

You can become ill with stomach flu if you:

  • touch a surface or object that contains the virus, and then touch your face or mouth
  • have close contact with someone with stomach flu
  • consume food or water that contain the virus
  • Norovirus is resilient. It can survive for 2 weeks on surfaces and for 2 months or more in water. It can also withstand temperature changes and many common cleaning products. This can make it easier to spread from one person to another.

Tips for avoiding stomach flu

Although you may not be able to completely avoid these viruses, you can take steps to lower your risk, especially if someone in your household has a stomach virus.

  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly after using the restroom or changing a diaper, before eating or handling food, and after touching surfaces or objects that may contain viruses.
  • Keep surfaces clean. Focus on high-touch surfaces, such as doorknobs, appliance handles, remote controls, light switches, and countertops.
  • Disinfect. If someone in your house experiences vomiting or diarrhea due to stomach flu, thoroughly disinfect and clean the area afterward.
  • Practice food safety. Wash all fresh produce before eating it. Make sure all foods are cooked to the appropriate temperature before consuming. Always handle or prepare food on a clean surface.
  • Clean soiled laundry. If a person in your household has stomach flu, promptly clean soiled clothing, bedding or towels promptly. Wash with detergent and hot water and use a clothes dryer.
  • Get vaccinated if you can. There are two vaccines available to help prevent rotavirus infections in infants.

What can I do to prevent the spread of my stomach virus?

If you currently have a stomach virus, there are things that you can do to prevent the stomach virus from spreading to other people.

  • Wash your hands thoroughly. This is particularly important after you have used the restroom.
  • Stay home from work or school for at least 2 days after your symptoms have subsided.
  • Keep your distance. Avoid coming into contact with people who are at an increased risk of serious illness including babies, older adults and people with a weakened immune system.
  • Avoid sharing items such as eating utensils, drinking glasses, phones or towels while you are sick and for several days after your symptoms have subsided.
  • Try not to handle or prepare food while you are sick and for at least two days after your symptoms have subsided.

Are there any stomach virus home remedies?

Since a virus causes stomach flu, medications such as antibiotics do not help to treat it. Typically, most people with stomach flu recover from their illness without having to seek medical treatment.

The following should help ease the symptoms of stomach flu and prevent more serious illness.

  • Drink plenty of fluids; replace lost fluids and electrolytes by regularly drinking water, sports drinks or broths.
  • Consider an oral rehydration solution such as Pedialyte. Oral rehydration solutions contain water, electrolytes and carbs in proportions that are easy to digest. These treatments may be especially helpful for children and older adults.
  • Use over the counter (OTC) medications such as bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol) and loperamide (Imodium A-D). Please talk with your child’s pediatrician about appropriate OTC medications as these may be unsafe for children.
  • Try to eat small amounts of bland foods such as rice, crackers or toast.
  • Avoid foods and drinks that make symptoms worse. Some foods and drinks can make your diarrhea worse. Foods to avoid include those high in dairy, sugar, fat or caffeine.

When should I seek medical treatment for a stomach virus?

Although your stomach virus should improve with self-care, it is important to get medical attention if you notice any of the following symptoms:

  • signs of severe dehydration – such as extreme thirst, passing small amounts of urine and dizziness
  • bloody diarrhea
  • persistent vomiting that prevents you from keeping fluids down
  • high fever
  • severe abdominal pain
  • symptoms that do not get better, or begin to get worse after several days of at-home care
  • symptoms of stomach flu that occur in an infant, older adult or individual with an underlying health condition

Our experienced team at Everest Urgent Care will offer medical treatment that involves managing your symptoms and promoting hydration. You may be given intravenous (IV) fluids to help replace lost fluids and electrolytes.

Most people recover from a stomach flu or virus. However, if you experience signs of serious dehydration, blood in your stool, persistent fever or severe abdominal pain, get medical attention right away. Our Everest Urgent Care Centers in Upper Darby and Chester are open extended hours seven days a week with no appointment necessary. For more information contact us at (610) 352-8000 in Upper Darby and (484) 480-4700 in Chester.