There is nothing worse than realizing you’ve got the stomach flu. Cancel all your plans and dive into bed, because it’s the only place you’ll want to be! Well, besides the bathroom, of course. The stomach flu is a common cause of diarrhea, and we’re sure you wonder how long the suffering will last.
The good news is that you don’t need medicine. As a viral infection, stomach flu resolves on its own. Instead, your goal would be to reduce symptoms and avoid complications as you ride it out.
What Is The Stomach Flu?
The “stomach flu” is a nickname for viral gastroenteritis, a viral infection of the digestive system. It’s actually not even related to influenza. The infection flares up the lining of the stomach, small intestine, and large intestine. Sometimes, the stomach flu is called “food poisoning.” It’s also extremely contagious, so steer clear if someone has it.1
In babies and children, rotavirus is the top cause. Adults can also get it, but the symptoms are usually milder. Norovirus affects people of all ages while adenovirus and astrovirus infect mostly babies and young kids.2 3
What Are The Symptoms?
Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Watery diarrhea
- Stomach cramps
Watery diarrhea and vomiting are the main symptoms, but you’ll likely feel tired, sore, and downright ill.4
What Are The Complications?
Between all the diarrhea and vomiting, there’s a high risk for dehydration. This is especially dangerous for young children, elders, and people with poor immunity. If dehydration develops, it can lead to the following:5
- Little to no urination
- Dry mouth and throat
Dehydration certainly won’t make stomach flu symptoms reduce. As you recover, make hydration a priority by drinking lots of water, fruit juice, broth, and beverages with electrolytes.
How Long Does The Stomach Flu Last?
Now, for the big question: How long do you have to suffer? The symptoms, which often start 12 to 48 hours after exposure, usually last for 1 to 3 days. In some cases, symptoms may last a bit longer.
The Right Time To Call The Doctor
You probably won’t need a doctor’s diagnosis to realize you have the stomach flu. Plus, it goes away on its own. But if the symptoms last more than 3 days or your stool has blood, call the doctor. A more serious infection might be at play.6
How To Prevent Stomach Flu
After an episode of viral gastroenteritis, you probably never want to experience it again! Limit the chances of catching it with these 3 habits.
1. Wash Your Hands
Before and after eating or handling food, wash your hands with warm soap and water. As a general rule of thumb, count for 20 seconds. Do it again after using the bathroom or changing diapers. Can’t get to a sink? Use antibacterial gel.
2. Disinfect Surfaces
Regularly clean hard surfaces with disinfectants like bleach. If you want a more natural option, use a mixture of vinegar and anti-microbial tea tree oil. It’s especially important to clean the areas that come in contact with food.
3. Avoid Contact
Don’t eat food that an infected person prepared. If you live with someone who has the stomach flu, use separate utensils. Separate food and drinks for the time being.
Even after 2 weeks of feeling better, people are contagious. The virus can hang around in the stool, too. During this time, be extra careful so you don’t spread it to other people – or catch it again!7
|↑1, ↑3, ↑4, ↑6, ↑7||Viral Gastroenteritis. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.|
|↑2||Leung, Alexander KC, James D. Kellner, and H. Dele Davies. “Rotavirus gastroenteritis.” Advances in therapy 22, no. 5 (2005): 476-487.|
|↑5||Norovirus Symptoms. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|