Inflammation and irritation of stomach and gastrointestinal tract (intestines) caused due to viral, bacterial or parasitic infection or due to food borne illnesses is termed as Stomach flu. It is also termed as gastroenteritis. Norvovirus often causes stomach flu in adults and Rotavirus is the culprit in case of infants and children. Bacterial strains causing this infection include E.Coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter and Shigella.
In few cases, protozoans such as Giardia and cryptosporidium also cause the infection. Intake of contaminated food or water and contact with infected person are often the causes for contracting the infection. Taking raw or uncooked oysters also increases the risk for infection. Young children, older adults and those with very weak immune system are easily susceptible to stomach flu.
Stomach flu Symptoms
Stomach flu affects both stomach and intestines. Stomach flu symptoms often start within one to three days of infection and continue for a day or two. In few cases, symptoms may persist up to ten days.
Commonly observed stomach flu symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain with cramps: Cramps will be more severe until a loose bowel movement occurs. It then subsides a little and next cycle of cramps start.
- Mild fever of about 100 F. Nausea.
Severe Stomach flu symptoms
- Swelling of the abdomen and irresistible pain in lower abdomen.
- Dehydration characterized by reduced urination, dry mouth, lack of sweating, lightheadedness, shrunken eyes and fatigue.
- Vomiting of blood.
- Bloody stools.
- Stiffness of joints.
- Loss of weight.
- Severe vomiting for more than 48 hours.
- High fever above 101 degrees.
Stomach flu symptoms such as high fever, blood in stools or vomit, dehydration and severe abdominal pain should be given emergency medical attention. Negligence to treat dehydration often results in complications.
Treatment of Stomach flu
There is no specific treatment against viral stomach flu. Being a viral infection it subsides on its own. Only in very rare cases as in people with suppressed immune system stomach flu results in complications. Antibiotics are used only after diagnosing bacterial infection as improper use of antibiotics results in development of antibiotic resistance.
Physical examination and the history of symptoms often confirm the case of stomach flu. The physician will also ask for a stool test to identify parasitic and bacterial infections.
- If diagnosis reveals bacterial infection then antibiotics are prescribed to treat the infection. Bacterial infection caused by bacterial strains Shigella, Campylobacter and Vibrio Cholera is treated using specific antibiotics. Infection by Salmonella strains is treated without using antibiotics by advising the patient to take plenty of rest and fluids to prevent dehydration.
- Medications may be given to control vomiting in adults. Antimetics such as promethazine, ondansetron or prochlorperazin are used to regulate vomiting. Infants are not given antimetics. Older children may be given very low dose of antimetics to control vomiting depending on the condition.
- Diarrhea observed in stomach flu caused by toxins is not controlled with medications. In other cases, anti diarrheal drugs such as loperamide or diphenoxylate atropine are given in appropriate dosage to patients above three years of age.
Following simple home remedies helps to relieve stomach flu symptoms and prevent complications.
- Fluids lost due to vomiting and loose bowel movements should be replaced. However, fluids should not be taken at once as the empty and irritated stomach gets further irritated and the patient will vomit all the water. Plain water is also not recommended as it would dilute the minerals of the body resulting low sodium levels of blood. If the patient does not co-operate to take fluids at least a mouth full should be offered frequently to prevent dehydration.
- Once, the patient starts to tolerate fluids without vomiting, soft bland diet can be started. Foods such as bananas, rice, apples and toast (BRAT diet) can be given. Gradually normal diet can be restored. Until stomach flu symptoms subside completely foods such as dairy products, alcohol, caffeine, fatty foods and nicotine should be avoided.
- Taking plenty of rest.
- Medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen should be taken cautiously only under the advice of physician.
If home remedies fail to relieve dehydration then IV fluids are administered to the patient to restore lost fluids.
Stomach flu : Preventive and precautionary measures
Stomach flu being an infectious disease can be prevented by taking appropriate care.
- Washing hands after using toilet and also before eating food.
- Proper washing of soiled laundry.
- Taking hygienic, healthy and well cooked food.
- Storing of foods properly to prevent flies.
- Following vaccination schedules. Vaccines for V.cholera should be taken before traveling to high risk areas. Children should be given vaccines against rotavirus.
- Avoid sharing plates, towels or other things used by infected people.
As confused by many stomach flu or gastroenteritis is not same as flu attacking the respiratory system.