Fighting The Stomach Flu: Symptoms, Treatment, And Prevention

Stay ahead of stomach flu with our in-depth guide on symptoms, treatment options, and preventive measures. Learn how to manage this viral infection effectively and get back to your daily routine in no time.

By Dr. S.T. Gopal
27 Jan 2023

If you've ever had stomach flu, you know how unpleasant it can be. The good news is you're not alone. Millions of people suffer from this viral infection annually, with doctors suggesting that adults get it at least once a year and children even more frequently. We spoke to Dr. S.T. Gopal, Senior consultant Gastroenterologist and Transplant Hepatologist, Apollo Hospitals, Seshadripuram, Bengaluru. regarding stomach flu. In this guide, we will discuss the signs and symptoms of stomach flu, as well as effective preventive measures and stomach flu treatment options to aid in speeding progress and lower the chance of reappearance.


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What is it?

Stomach flu, also known as viral gastroenteritis, is an inflammation( swelling) and irritation of the lining of your stomach and intestines caused by a variety of viruses. The norovirus is the most common cause of viral gastroenteritis, which is responsible for many stomach flu outbreaks. Other common causes include rotavirus, adenovirus, and astrovirus. This is very common, especially in children and toddlers. In most cases, it is self-limiting and may last for a few days.

Viral gastroenteritis is highly contagious and can be spread through contact with an infected person, through consumption of contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces and then touching your mouth. “Viruses can be found in the vomit and diarrhoea of the infected person. The virus can remain for a long time outside the body and can spread through contact with infected surfaces. Patients and caregivers can spread it to others through food and beverages. Contamination of the drinking water with sewage during the rainy season can also spread the illness,” says Dr. Gopal.

It's important to note that "stomach flu" is not the same as "influenza" (the flu), which is a respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus and usually affects the upper respiratory tract (nose, throat, and lungs) with symptoms like fever, chills, body aches, and fatigue.


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The symptoms of stomach flu (also known as viral gastroenteritis) usually begin about 1 -2 days after the virus gets into the body and can vary depending on the virus that causes the infection but commonly includes:

1. Nausea: Nausea is a common symptom of stomach flu, as the virus can cause irritation in the stomach and lead to feelings of discomfort or unease.

2. Vomiting: Vomiting is also a common symptom of stomach flu. The virus can cause inflammation in the stomach and intestines, leading to the involuntary expulsion of stomach contents.

3. Diarrhoea: Diarrhoea is a common symptom of stomach flu, as the virus causes inflammation in the intestines, leading to the frequent passing of loose or watery stools.

4. Stomach Cramps: Stomach cramps can also be caused by the virus leading to inflammation and irritation in the stomach and intestines.

5. Low-grade Fever: A low-grade fever is a common symptom of viral infections, including stomach flu. The virus can trigger the immune system to raise the body's temperature as a defense mechanism.

6. Headache: Headache can also be caused by the virus as it can lead to inflammation in the body and can lead to discomfort in the head and neck.

7. Fatigue: Fatigue can be caused by the virus as it can lead to overall weakness in the body.

8. Loss of Appetite: Loss of appetite is also a common symptom of stomach flu, as the virus can cause inflammation in the stomach and make eating unappealing.

9. Dehydration: Dehydration is a common complication of stomach flu, as vomiting and diarrhoea can cause loss of fluids and electrolytes and can make it difficult for the body to stay hydrated. It is important to replenish fluids and electrolytes lost during diarrhoea and vomiting to prevent dehydration.


“Some other symptoms of stomach flu are decreased urine output, dark-yellow urine, chills, dry skin, thirst, lack of tears, excessive sleepiness, and sunken fontanel (the soft spot on the top of an infant’s head),” reveals Dr. Gopal. Stomach flu symptoms can appear abruptly and can vary in duration, typically lasting for a few days to a week. While many individuals are able to recover without any significant issues, some may experience more severe symptoms, such as dehydration, which may require medical intervention.


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Specific treatment is not typically required when it comes to stomach flu or viral gastroenteritis. Most of the time, individuals can recover by drinking ample fluids and resting at home until the virus runs its course. However, in rare cases, treatment for severe dehydration may be necessary, which may include administering fluids through an IV.

To care for yourself at home, it is important to stay hydrated. Drink water, fruit juice, or broth, but avoid sports drinks that are high in sugar, since they are not recommended if severe dehydration is present. Instead, consider using an oral rehydration solution. Additionally, avoiding drinks that contain milk, caffeine, or alcohol may be beneficial.

Once you feel hungry again, starting with light, easily digestible foods are recommended. It's also important to note that children with stomach flu should be rehydrated with oral rehydration solutions.


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Viral Gastroenteritis (Stomach Flu) in Children

Stomach flu is a highly contagious infection affecting many children worldwide. Not only can it be incredibly uncomfortable and inconvenient for both kids and their parents, but it can also be quite dangerous in some cases. While most cases of stomach flu resolve on their own within a few days, there are certain steps you can take to reduce the severity and duration of your child's symptoms.

The first step is proper diagnosis: if your child has nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, or abdominal pain lasting more than 24 hours (especially with fever), they may have viral gastroenteritis. It's important to seek medical attention immediately if symptoms worsen or do not improve over time. Your doctor can help diagnose the condition and determine whether additional treatments like antibiotics or fluids are necessary.

In children, rotavirus is the most common cause of stomach flu. Vaccines are available for rotavirus, which can significantly reduce the incidence and severity of the disease in children. It is also important to ensure that children stay well-hydrated, as fluids lost due to vomiting and diarrhoea can lead to dehydration. Oral rehydration solution (ORS) or electrolyte solutions effectively replace lost fluids and electrolytes.


Related story: What Is The Role Of Acid In Our Stomach?



To stop the spread of intestinal infections, it's important to follow these steps:

1. Wash your hands thoroughly: Washing your hands thoroughly and frequently is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of stomach flu. Make sure to wash your hands with soap or hand sanitizers and warm water for at least 20 seconds, especially before eating and after using the bathroom.

2. Use separate personal items around your home: To prevent the spread of stomach flu, it's important to use separate personal items around your home, such as towels, washcloths, and utensils. This will help to prevent the spread of germs between family members.

3. Prepare food safely: To prevent stomach flu, it's important to prepare food safely by washing fruits and vegetables, cooking meat to the proper temperature, and avoiding cross-contamination between raw and cooked foods.

4. Avoid touching laundry that may have been exposed to a virus: Stomach flu can be spread through contact with contaminated surfaces, so it's important to avoid touching laundry that may have been exposed to a virus. If you do need to handle such laundry, make sure to wear gloves and wash your hands thoroughly afterward.

5. Check out your child care centre: If your child attends a child care centre, it's important to check out the centre's policies on preventing the spread of stomach flu. Make sure that the centre has a plan in place for cleaning and disinfecting, and that staff is trained on proper handwashing and other infection-control practices.

6. Vaccination: Vaccines to protect children from rotavirus are available. Healthcare providers give shots to babies before the age of 6 months.

Dr. Gopal advises, “Specific drug treatment is usually not needed as it's caused by a virus and not a bacteria. So antibiotics don't work. You need to drink plenty of fluids and rest at home until you recover. If someone is very dehydrated, they may need treatment with an intravenous fluids drip.”


Home Care Tips

  • Drink plenty of light fluids like water, ORS (oral rehydration solutions) fruit juice, coconut water, and hygienically prepared buttermilk. Energy drinks are high in sugar and are not good if you are extremely dehydrated.
  • Also avoid milk, caffeine, and alcohol.
  • If you see blood or tar-like stools, symptoms not getting better or any signs of dehydration as mentioned above, you must see a medical doctor and avoid self-medicating.


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When To See A Doctor

The stomach flu naturally subsides within a few days. However, there are certain symptoms that warrant a visit to a healthcare provider. These include:

  • Incapability to retain fluids
  • Down for 24 hours
  • Vomiting or diarrhoea for more than two days
  • Vomiting blood
  • Severe dehydration (signs include excessive thirst, dry mouth, deep yellow urine or little or no urine, and extreme weakness, dizziness, or lightheadedness)
  • Blood in bowel movements
  • Severe stomach pain
  • Fever above 104 F (40 C)

For children, it is important to seek medical attention if they experience a fever of 102 F (38.9 C) or higher, tiredness or irritability, discomfort or pain, bloody diarrhoea, or signs of dehydration.


For infants, it is important to seek medical attention if they experience the following:

  • Frequent vomiting
  • No wet diaper in six hours
  • Bloody stools or severe diarrhoea
  • Indented soft zone (fontanel) on the top of the head
  • Dry mouth or crying without tears
  • The feeling of being unusually sleepy, drowsy, or unresponsive.

Additionally, if you have a weakened immune system, are pregnant, or are elderly, it is important to contact your healthcare provider to seek guidance.

If you experience any of these symptoms, contact your healthcare provider for prompt and proper medical attention.


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Final Thoughts

The stomach flu is an unpleasant—but common—illness that can affect anyone. It’s important to remember the symptoms, treatments, and preventive measures outlined in this article so that you can get quick relief if you experience a case of stomach flu. If you think your symptoms are severe or they last longer than expected, it’s best to consult a healthcare professional since it can help you avoid any serious health complications.


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The article has been verified by Dr. S.T. Gopal, Senior consultant Gastroenterologist and Transplant Hepatologist at Apollo Hospitals, Seshadripuram, Bengaluru.






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