Stomach Flu

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ):

What is Gastroenteritis?

 Gastroenteritis means, inflammation of the stomach and small and large intestines. Viral gastroenteritis is an infection caused by a variety of viruses that results in vomiting or diarrhea. It is often called the "Stomach Flu" although it is not caused by the influenza viruses.

Many different viruses can cause gastroenteritis, including rotaviruses, noroviruses, adenoviruses, type 40 or 41, sapoviruses, and astroviruses. Viral gastroenteritis is not caused by bacteria, such as Salmonella or Escherichia coli) or parasites, such as Giardia), or by medications or other medical conditions, although the symptoms may be similar. Your doctor can determine if the diarrhea is caused by a virus or by something else.

Periodic outbreaks of Norovirus, Shigella, and Salmonella can and do occur. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Some gastrointestinal germs can be life-threatenting for the elderly and immuno-compromised.

Simple Steps To Avoid Gastroenteritis

Wash Your Hands
  • Frequent hand washing is always the best defense. This includes washing hands for at least 15 seconds (using the "happy birthday song - twice") or using hand sanitizers containing at least 60% alcohol.
Clean With Bleach
  • Use a bleach-containing cleaner to disinfect surfaces.
  • Do not forget "frequent touch" surfaces like door knobs and light switches.
Food And Water Safety
  • Prevent food contamination. Wash raw foods before eating.
  • Don't eat food prepared by someone who is ill until 2-3 days after symptoms have cleared.
Do Not Air Dirty Laundry
  • Direct contact with a sick person is not required to contaminate soft surfaces. Germs can spread from a contaminated pillowcase to a clean towel in a pile of laundry. To disinfect laundry, wash with hot water and dry on "high". Add bleach to wash if heavily soiled with vomit or feces.
Prevent Outbreaks
  • Do not wait for an outbreak to occur to clean up. Ward off germs by maintaining a clean household and regularly disinfecting surface.
Contain Outbreaks
  • Immediately quarantine those who are sick.
  • Don't forget to disinfect everything from the washing machine to the bleach bottle.
  • Wear protective gloves while cleaning.

Is Viral Gastroenteritis Serious?

For most people, it is not. People who get viral gastroenteritis almost always recover completely without any long-term problems. Gastroenteritis is a serious illness, however, for persons who are unable to drink enough fluids to replace what they lose through vomiting or diarrhea. Infants, young children, and persons who are unable to care for themselves, such as the disabled or elderly, are at risk for dehydration from loss of fluids. Immune compromised persons are at risk for dehydration because they may get a more serious illness, with greater vomiting or diarrhea. They may need to be hospitalized for treatment to correct or prevent dehydration.

The most important aspect of treating viral gastroenteritis in children and adults is to prevent severe loss of fluids (dehydration). This treatment should begin at home. Your physician may give you specific instructions about what kinds of fluid to give. CDC recommends that families with infants and young children keep a supply of oral rehydration solution (ORS) at home at all times and use the solution when diarrhea first occurs in the child. ORS is available at pharmacies without a prescription. Follow the written directions on the ORS package, and use clean or boiled water. Medications, including antibiotics (which have no effect on viruses) and other treatments, should be avoided unless specifically recommended by a physician.

For more information regarding "Stomach Flu", please visit the Centers for Disease Control viral gastroenteritis web page.