Stomach virus, also known as gastroenteritis, stomach flu, or gastric flu, is an infection that causes inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, which affects the stomach and the intestines. Although it is a viral infection, it should not be confused with the influenza virus, or flu viruses.
A stomach virus usually lasts from 2-5 days and is self-limiting, which means the body cures itself. It is highly contagious, and common among adults and children. Stomach virus infections occur all year-round. They go away on their own eventually, and there are several natural remedies to relieve symptoms. Severe cases may also occur, but are rare.
Stomach Virus: Causes
Stomach viruses are highly contagious. They are spread by coming into contact with someone or something that is contaminated such as food, drink, feces, soiled diapers, bodily fluids including vomit and saliva, cooking utensils or cutlery. They are sometimes called a “family affair” because they tend to spread to the whole household once one person in a family is affected. And even after the symptoms subside, they don’t go away immediately — the virus can survive in feces for up to two weeks after recovery.
Public places that are frequented by children are particularly susceptible to stomach viruses, such as nurseries, day care centers, schools, camps, and dormitories. And they can easily spread in eating establishments, such as restaurants and cafes that do not have thorough and correct sanitization practices.
There are four kinds of viruses that cause stomach virus:
- Adenovirus. This is common in children under 2 years old. This specific strain attacks the infant’s gastrointestinal tract, which then causes diarrhea and vomiting. Symptoms appear a week after initial exposure to this virus. Infections of this type occur year-round.
- Astrovirus. This particular type of strain is also common in infants, children, and the elderly. Symptoms usually appear 1-3 days after initial exposure to this virus. Infections of this type are common during the cold winter months.
- Caliciviruses. Caliciviruses affect people of all ages. They are further divided into four types, the most common of which are the noroviruses. Noroviruses are the culprit for stomach virus epidemics or outbreaks, most active within the months of October to April. Symptoms usually appear 1-3 days after initial exposure to this virus.
- Rotavirus. This specific strain is known to be the most common cause of stomach flu among infants 3-15 months old, and young children under 5 years old. Symptoms appear after 1-2 days of initial exposure to this virus, causing 3-8 days of watery diarrhea and vomiting, with fever and occasional abdominal pain. It is highly contagious and it can easily transfer to adult caretakers and those in close contact with the infected child. However, with adults, the symptoms are milder. Rotavirus infections usually occur from November to April.
Stomach Virus: Symptoms
Common symptoms of a stomach virus are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps. Other symptoms may include the following: mild fever, headaches, chills, fatigue, muscle pains, and occasionally bloody diarrhea. Usually, symptoms appear 48 hours after initial exposure to the virus. Symptoms last for 2-5 days, or in serious cases, for up to 10 days.
Stomach Virus: Diagnostic Tests
Stomach viruses cannot be cured by antibiotics or other medications since they aren’t caused by bacteria. They are self-limiting: nearly all cases of stomach virus resolve by themselves after a few days. However, you should call a doctor if:
- You’re not able to keep liquids down for 24 hours
- You’ve been vomiting for more than 48 hours
- You’re vomiting or excreting blood
- You have a swollen stomach or abdominal pain
- You’re dehydrated — characteristic signs include weakness, lightheadedness, decreased urination, dry skin, dry mouth and lack of sweat and tears.
- You have a fever above 104 F (40 C).
Doctors base their diagnosis of stomach virus on the basis of a physical exam, your symptoms, and complete medical history. You may be asked for a blood test. Sometimes, a stool sample is needed to rule out other possible causes. A stool test can also test for the presence of the rotavirus, although it does not identify other virus strains.
Stomach Virus: Treatment Options
Stomach virus is self-limiting — it resolves by itself without any need for antibiotics or any other medication. Treatment focuses on alleviating the symptoms, discomfort and pain. Preventing dehydration is also essential as the symptoms of stomach virus — vomiting, sweating and diarrhea – all cause loss of fluids.
Dehydration symptoms include excessive thirst, dry mouth, lethargy or severe weakness, lightheadedness or dizziness, little, dark or no urine. Children are most susceptible, although any one is at risk.
As well as water, you can try sipping electrolyte drinks such as Pedialyte or Gatorade every 10 or 15 minutes to rehydrate. The small sips are helpful if you are vomiting to prevent the stomach from being overloaded.
While there aren’t any medications that will cure a stomach virus, there are plenty of home remedies. Here are some top tips:
- No food: Start with a fluid diet and avoid solid food for a few hours to allow your stomach to settle.
- BRAT Diet: Observe no solid food for four hours then gradually reintroduce easily digestible food like bananas, rice, apples, toast, broth, and crackers. Clinicians recommend the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, apples and toast) for a day or two before or until your symptoms subside.
- Electrolyte Replacement Sips: Sip small amounts of pedialyte or diluted gatorade in frequent intervals. (Just water alone cause sodium levels to decrease and lead to worsened dehydration and brain issues).
- Rest and relaxation: Having stomach virus can sap up all of your energy, so it’s advisable to sleep as much as possible.
- No irritating foods: Avoid the following: dairy products, caffeine, alcohol, oily and fried food, tomato-based food, spicy food, carbonated or sugared drinks, sour juices. Also, no not suck on ice chips, which can actually worsen vomiting because they make your stomach feel fuller than it is.
Stomach Virus: Natural and Homeopathic Remedies
Natural and homeopathic remedies can also help alleviate the symptoms without the risk of the more harmful side effects of stronger medications. The following are recommended:
- Ginger root. Powdered ginger root can be made into hot tea by adding boiling water. In China, it has a long history as traditional home remedy for morning sickness, motion sickness, and nausea. But it should be noted that once your vomiting ginger can lead to worsened esophageal reflux.
- Peppermint. Peppermint is a pleasant-tasting herbal alternative that relieves all kinds of tummy-related aches and pains. As a hot tea, peppermint acts as an anti-spasmodic, which means it can relieve stomach, intestinal cramps and hyperacidity. It is also a carminative, which means it can help dispel gas and bloating in the digestive system.
- Chamomile. Chamomile can also help reduce stomach virus-related symptoms like nausea, cramping, bloating, and gas. It has anti-spasmodic and anti-inflammatory properties, making it particularly effective in soothing stomach and intestinal cramps. It is also an anti-microbial agent, so it reduces internal infections and inflammations, especially when combined with other anti-microbial plants like thyme or Echinacea. It has calming properties and a mild, soothing taste, which makes it suitable for children.
Stomach Virus: Prevention
There’s no effective treatment for viral gastroenteritis, so prevention is key.
- Frequent hand washing: especially when you prepare food or after using the toilet. Make sure to wash around the cuticles and beneath your fingernails. If you have children, it’s important you teach them how and when to wash their hands.
- Avoid sharing cooking utensils: Gastroenteritis can be transmitted through contaminated food and cooking utensils. Avoid sharing utensils.
- Keep Your Distance: Avoid close contact with anyone who has the virus, if possible. Wash your hands with soap and water after being in contact with anyone who has had the virus.
- Disinfect Surfaces: Regularly disinfect easily accessible surfaces such as countertops, tables, and baby changing stations.
- Travelling Precautions: if you are travelling to a developing country, it’s important that you take extra precautions around hygiene and food and drink consumption. Make sure you only drink bottled water, and do not eat any raw foods, such as salads. Use bottled water to brush your teeth. Ask for your drinks without ice cubes, unless you are positive that the water has been sterilized.
Stomach virus is one of the most common illnesses. The great majority of cases are non-life threatening and resolve by themselves after 2-5 days. Although they require no particular medication or treatment, there a number of home and natural remedies to ease the symptoms and prevent dehydration