Coming down with the stomach flu will be one of the least glamorous moments of your life. In between all the (explosive) diarrhea and vomiting, you’ll also be nursing stomach cramps, dehydration and weakness. Stomach flus are one of the most common illnesses in the U.S., however most people don’t know too much about it. For starters, the name in itself is misleading. Stomach flu isn’t really a flu and can’t be prevented with a flu shot. Since there’s no guaranteed way to avoid it, here are eight stomach flu facts that will help you understand it better.
1. It’s Extremely Contagious
While the illness is gross to begin with, the way it spreads is possibly even more disgusting. The norovirus which causes the stomach flu can travel from infected feces or vomit into your mouth. Once in your body, it can cause the same symptoms in you. While it might seem unlikely to you that you would ever ingest feces or vomit, you’d be surprised at how many times you actually do. If you’re not washing your hands properly after using the restroom or if you change diapers often, then you’re at a very high risk. And while sanitizers are great if you’re in a fix, antibacterial soap and water is always the safest.
2. Your Food Might Also Have The Virus
One of the most common ways the stomach flu, or gastroenteritis if you want to get all scientific, spreads is through food. While the virus doesn’t live on food per se, it can get transferred onto it by an infected person. If the person preparing your food has the virus, he can spread the virus to the food which you’ll end up ingesting. This is why the stomach flu often gets confused with food poisoning, even though they aren’t the same thing at all.
3. They’re Hardy Little Microbes
The norovirus is an extremely tough virus which can live for days without a host. They’re also notoriously difficult to kill, which means plain water won’t do. If someone in your house has come down with the stomach flu, wipe down all the surfaces in your home with a bleach cleaner. If you have the stomach flu yourself, then stay away from cooking and if possible, the kitchen altogether. You should also be cautious while washing or folding soiled clothes. Try to wear protective gloves so you don’t get infected too.
4. It Goes Away By Itself
The stomach flu can hit you like a truck, but your recovery will be just as dramatic. Gastroenteritis is what’s known as a ‘self-limiting’ condition. Your symptoms will be terrible while they last, but once the virus runs its course, you’ll feel better almost immediately. The stomach flu usually lasts for around 3 days at the most. And while it may feel like you’re inches away from certain death, you don’t really need to go to a doctor. Antibiotics do nothing to kill the virus, so it’s best to just wait it out.
5. Dehydration Is The Real Threat
Because you’re constantly besieged with diarrhea and vomiting, your body is emptying fluids faster than you can replenish them. The real danger when you’re suffering from gastroenteritis is dehydration. Dehydration can make you feel tired, disoriented and give you a terrible headache. Drinking water alone won’t do much to make you feel better, in fact it might make things worse. Too much plain water can dilute whatever little electrolytes you have and make you more dehydrated. Fill up on electrolytes to help your body replenish its essential salts and recover faster.
6. OTC Medicines For Diarrhea Can Help
While there’s no cure for gastroenteritis, you can ease the symptoms a bit with OTC remedies. Common medicines for diarrhea and nausea can help you deal with the stomach flu better. Look for medicines that contain the ingredient bismuth subsalicylate which can help with your diarrhea. However, don’t use OTC remedies if you notice blood in your stools or vomit. Avoid them also if you have a fever because they can make things worse.
7. Don’t Overdo It Once You Recover
When your symptoms finally die down, you might start feeling ravenous. However, don’t get ahead of yourself and order a bucket of fried chicken. Your stomach is still in a delicate state after the onslaught of the virus. Don’t overload your stomach too quickly or you might fall sick again. Eat simple, easily-digestible foods like the old classic, chicken soup. It’s also important that you don’t overeat because this can put too much stress on your stomach.
8. Call A Doctor If It Gets Worse
Most cases of gastroenteritis don’t need a visit to the doctor because they go away on their own and there’s not much a doctor can do to cure it anyway. However, in more serious cases, you might need medical intervention. If you have a temperature of more than 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit which shows no signs of subsiding, then it might be serious. You should also go to a doctor if you notice signs of extreme dehydration like dark urine, dizziness, disorientation and fatigue.