The Stomach Flu: What Do You Need to Know?
by Lisa DiFalco
Either you or someone you know has come down or may come down with a bad case of the stomach flu. The stomach flu is an inflammation of the small and large intestine as a result of a virus. Madison, WI is just one area seeing cases of Rhinovirus, Coronavirus, Parainfluenza and Norovirus. While the first three viruses give individuals symptoms of the common cold, possibly accompanied by a fever, the Norovirus will lead to the stomach flu. The stomach flu, or viral gastroenteritis, is highly contagious, and those with compromised immune systems are at a higher risk of serious health consequences. Understand more about the stomach flu, its symptoms and treatment.
Madison and the Stomach Flu
Amy Wagner, a physician assistant that works at the Capitol Clinic, is seeing cases of the Norovirus, and consequently, the stomach flu. There is a range of symptoms that include vomiting, diarrhea and fever. Wagner recommends drinking water, Pedialyte or Gatorade at room temperature to stay hydrated. It is best for affected individuals to consult with doctors or pediatricians as to the at-home treatment options. Wagner believes that washing hands with soap and water is the best way to not contract the virus. She states that the virus cannot be killed with hand sanitizers or wipes. This is important to note for those traveling or that lack access to running water.
Those that have been sick with the stomach flu are in good company. As of only a few days ago, the Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard was sidelined. He had to sit out a recent basketball game due to dealing with the stomach flu. This goes to show that any person can contract the stomach flu and must take the necessary time out to recover from the illness.
How to Avoid the Stomach Flu
Frequent hand-washing and avoiding the consumption of potentially contaminated food and water are the best options to prevent coming down with the stomach flu. Hydration is extremely important for those that become ill. Remember the travel tips shared in the recent blog, Important Holiday Health Travel Tips, as the majority of suggestions would help individuals avoid such communicable illnesses as the stomach flu.
Signs and Symptoms of the Stomach Flu
Stomach flu or viral gastroenteritis is an intestinal infection that appears to be making its rounds recently. Contact with an infected person is the most common way to develop this condition. However, the consumption of contaminated food or water can also bring about symptoms. It is no wonder that individuals traveling and coming into contact with a variety of different people during the holiday season are coming down with the stomach flu. Common signs that an individual has contracted viral gastroenteritis include:
- Abdominal cramps and discomfort;
- Nausea and/or vomiting;
- Potential muscle aches or headache;
- Watery diarrhea; and
- Possible fever.
Those that show symptoms of bloody diarrhea may have a different infection and may want to seek immediate treatment. Bloody diarrhea is not a symptom of the stomach flu.
Treatment for Viral Gastroenteritis
The Mayo Clinic states that there is “no effective treatment for viral gastroenteritis.” Those that have contracted the stomach flu need to stay hydrated during their recovery period. People who are attempting to recover and avoid dehydration should:
- Be careful with pain relievers and medications. Ibuprofen and related medications can cause additional stomach upset. Acetaminophen in Tylenol and other products should be used with caution. There have been cases of liver toxicity in children. The best course of action is to discuss pain relievers or fever reducer options with a doctor or pediatrician.
- Stop eating solid foods. In order to allow an affected stomach to settle, it is suggested that individuals refrain from solid foods for a few hours.
- Stay hydrated. Take small sips of a beverage such as water, clear soda or noncaffeinated sports drinks. The electrolytes in some drinks may help those that have undergone multiple bouts of vomiting and diarrhea. Consuming clear broths and sucking on ice chips are also options. Small, frequent sips of liquid throughout the day are recommended.
- Get rest. The course of the illness can leave individuals weak and tired. Rest will allow the body to recuperate from the stomach flu.
- Avoid foods and substances that may irritate the stomach. Avoid highly seasoned foods, fatty foods, alcohol and nicotine, caffeine and dairy products.
- Slowly begin to consume easy-to-digest foods. Check the tolerance of the body to foods that are bland and easy on the digestive system before returning to usual foods. Suggested foods at this stage include rice and chicken, bananas, gelatin, toast and soda crackers.
Replacing lost fluids and salts are necessary for adults and children. The majority of suggestions also apply to infants and children who come down with the stomach flu. Children-specific advice includes that of giving children an oral rehydration solution that is available without a prescription. Children do not tolerate plain water well, and apple juice can worsen cases of diarrhea. In addition, they should not consume sugary foods and candy at this time. Speak with a physician about treatment options but be aware that over-the-counter anti-diarrhea medications may make it harder for the virus to leave a child’s body.
The majority of healthy people recover from viral gastroenteritis without complications. However, it is important to be aware that the stomach flu can be deadly for those with compromised immune systems, infants and older adults. Healthcare professionals, educators, facility managers and case managers that work with vulnerable or susceptible populations should be aware of the potential of stomach flu cases at this time. This highly communicable illness appears to be raising its head in various communities of the United States.