‘Stomach flu’ is highly contagious
When you have diarrhoea and vomiting, you may say you have the ‘stomach flu’. These symptoms often are due to a condition called gastroenteritis. With gastroenteritis, your stomach and intestines are irritated and inflamed. The cause is typically a viral or bacterial infection. Because of diarrhoea and vomiting, you also can become dehydrated. Watch for signs of dehydration, such as dry skin and a dry mouth, feeling lightheaded, and being really thirsty.
There are many ways gastroenteritis can be spread: Contact with someone who has the virus; contaminated food or water; unwashed hands after going to the bathroom or changing a diaper. The most common cause of gastroenteritis is a virus. The main types are rotavirus and norovirus. Rotavirus is the world's most common cause of diarrhoea in infants and young children. Although not as common, bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella can also trigger the stomach flu. Salmonella and campylobacter bacteria are the most common bacterial causes of gastroenteritis and are usually spread by undercooked poultry, eggs, or poultry juices. Salmonella can also be spread through pet reptiles or live poultry. Another bacteria, shigella, is often passed around in day care centers. It typically is spread from person to person, and common sources of infection are contaminated food and drinking water. Parasites can also cause gastroenteritis, but it's not common. You can pick up organisms such as giardia and cryptosporidium in contaminated swimming pools or by drinking contaminated water.
There are also other unusual ways to get gastroenteritis: Heavy metals (arsenic, cadmium, lead, or mercury) in drinking water; eating a lot of acidic foods, like citrus fruit and tomatoes; Toxins that might be found in certain seafood; Medications such as antibiotics, antacids, laxatives, and chemotherapy drugs
Viral gastroenteritis is an inflammation of your stomach and intestines caused by one of any number of viruses. Also known as the stomach flu, viral gastroenteritis affects people throughout the world. This highly contagious illness spreads through close contact with people who are infected or through contaminated food or water. It can easily spread in close quarters, such as: child care facilities, schools, nursing homes and cruise ships. Different viruses can cause the illness, each with their own peak season. The most common viruses include norovirus and rotavirus. There are steps you can take to lower your chances of contracting the viruses that cause viral gastroenteritis. These include frequent hand-washing and avoiding contaminated water and food products. Most people make a full recovery in two or three days, with no lasting side effects.
Now, learn more about the individual viruses that can cause the condition.
Norovirus: Norovirus is highly contagious and can affect anyone at any age. It’s spread through contaminated food, water, and surfaces, or by people who have the virus. Norovirus is common in crowded spaces. Symptoms include: Nausea, diarrhoea, fever and body aches.
Rotavirus: Rotavirus commonly affects infants and young children. They can then spread the infection to other children and adults. It’s usually contracted and transmitted through the mouth. Symptoms typically appear within two days of infection and include: Vomiting, loss of appetite, and watery diarrhoea lasting anywhere from three to eight days. A rotavirus vaccine was approved for infants in 2006. Early vaccination is recommended to prevent severe rotavirus illnesses in infants and small children.
Adenovirus: The adenovirus affects people of all ages. It can cause several conditions, including gastroenteritis. Adenovirus is contracted through the air via sneezing and coughing, by touching contaminated objects, or by touching the hands of someone with the virus. Symptoms associated with adenovirus include: Sore throat, pink eye, fever, coughing and runny nose. Children in day care, especially those between 6 months to 2 years of age, are more likely to get adenovirus.
Astrovirus: Astrovirus is another virus that commonly causes gastroenteritis in children. Symptoms associated with astrovirus include: Diarrhea, headache, mild dehydration and stomach pain. The virus usually affects people in late winter and early spring. It’s passed through contact with a person who has the virus or an infected surface or food. Symptoms usually appear within two to three days after initial exposure, and the virus will usually go away within two to three days.
What conditions may resemble viral gastroenteritis?
Sometimes other factors can cause symptoms that closely resemble viral gastroenteritis. These causes include: Food intolerance. Examples of common food intolerances include lactose, fructose, and artificial sweeteners. Digestive disorders. These include inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis; irritable bowel syndrome; or celiac disease. Certain medications. Antibiotics or antacids with magnesium can cause similar symptoms to the stomach flu. If your symptoms don’t get better in two to three days, you should see your doctor.
What are the complications of viral gastroenteritis?
The main complication of viral gastroenteritis is dehydration, which can be quite severe in babies and young children. Other complications include: Nutritional imbalances, weakness, muscle weakness. The dehydration that can accompany viral gastroenteritis can lead to several complications of its own. These include: Brain swelling, coma, hypovolemic shock, a condition that occurs when your body doesn’t have enough fluid or blood, kidney failure or seizure.
What to eat and what to avoid
As you start to feel better and reintroduce foods into your diet, it’s usually best to opt for bland foods. These foods include: Rice, potatoes, toast, bananas and applesauce. These foods are easier to digest and less likely to cause further stomach upset. Until you’re feeling better, you may want to avoid certain items, such as: High-fat foods, caffeine, alcohol, sugary foods and dairy products.
If you have viral gastroenteritis, there are some self-care steps you can take. Drink extra fluids with and between meals. If you have difficulty, try drinking very small amounts of water or sucking on ice chips. Avoid fruit juices as these don’t replace minerals and can actually increase diarrhea. Children and adults can use sports drinks to replenish electrolytes. Younger children and infants should use products formulated for children, such as OHS. Eat food in small amounts and let your stomach recover. Get lots of rest. You may feel tired or weak. Check with your doctor before taking medications or giving them to children. Never give aspirin to children or teenagers with a viral illness. This can cause Reye’s syndrome, a potentially life-threatening condition.
Viral gastroenteritis generally resolves without medical treatment within two or three days. Most people fully recover with no lasting side effects.