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What is the Stomach Flu a.k.a Gastroenteritis

Author: Dr. William Rappaport
Date: October 2017

young woman flu sitting in bed

Having the stomach flu is not the same as influenza. It is an illness caused by viruses that lead to uncomfortable symptoms such as fever, malaise, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. One could have all or just one, maybe two of these symptoms. Rest, hydration, and a bland diet is necessary for a speedy recovery.

The causes of gastroenteritis can vary. The most common virus that leads to the stomach flu are Noroviruses and Rotaviruses. Both are highly contagious. Rotavirus is most common in children. Both types of virus cause fever, vomiting and diarrhea. Some children may have respiratory symptoms such as runny nose and cough with Rotavirus.

The Norovirus causes 50-75% of gastroenteritis in adults and children according to the CDC, spreads rapidly and is usually caused by contaminated food and liquids. Food becomes contaminated by either feces or improper storage. It is passed onto others by touching objects, such as cups, utensils, door knobs and surfaces that contain the virus. A person then contracts the virus by putting contaminated hands or food in their mouth.

Prevention of all virus is the best defense. The importance of washing your hands often with soap before eating and after touching public surfaces can go a very long way to staying healthy. Never share utensils or cups with a sick person even if they are your child. A person is contagious from three days up to a two week after they feel better. Once the virus is contracted, symptoms will start to present in one or two days. Currently there are two oral rotavirus vaccines available for infants prior to 6 months of age.

Always check with your doctor if your child presents with symptoms to make sure it is nothing more serious. It is important for parents to know that the natural history of this illness is for convalescence to take up to 2 weeks. This is never a 24- hour illness in children.

As the old adage goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

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