A mother looking at the temperature of her sick child

How to identify symptoms of the stomach flu and how to treat it

No one likes to be stuck at home, sick in bed. However, thousands of Canadians fall ill and catch the cold, flu and many other seasonal ailments. One of the most uncomfortable is the stomach flu. In fact, the stomach flu can be more serious than most people realize. It is also known as gastroenteritis and can result in severe dehydration, hospitalization and even death.

What you need to know about the stomach flu

The stomach flu is very different from the flu, which is a respiratory infection that is caused by the influenza virus. The stomach flu is actually caused by a norovirus, and it is commonly associated with diarrhea, vomiting and cramping (most people do not get a sore throat, cough or runny nose).

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “anyone can get infected with norovirus, and you can get it more than once. It is estimated that a person will get norovirus about 5 times during their lifetime. Many people usually get sick with norovirus in cooler months, especially from November to April.”

Typically, the stomach flu lasts for one or two days, but there have been cases lasting only hours, and cases lasting more than two days. It has the most severe effects on young children, the elderly and people with pre-existing medical conditions.

Currently, there is no medication or vaccine to prevent the stomach flu, and those who contract it are contagious immediately and up to a few days after the symptoms have passed.

Signs and symptoms of the stomach flu

Common signs associated with the stomach flu include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Cramping

There are other, less common symptoms you may experience if you develop the stomach flu, including:

  • Headaches
  • Chills
  • Muscle cramps
  • Mild fever
  • Tiredness and fatigue

How the stomach flu is contracted

Norovirus spreads quickly through person-to-person contact. It is especially contagious in places where there are lots of people, such as schools and daycares, nursing homes, and other enclosed places like restaurants.

Here are the most common ways people get the stomach flu:

  • Consuming contaminated foods or beverages
  • Touching contaminated surfaces and then touching the mouth or face
  • Having direct contact with someone who has the stomach flu

How to protect yourself

The best way to avoid the stomach flu is to be proactive about your health during the winter. A strong immune system is always the best defence against the spread of any cold or flu outbreak. Here are some things that you can do to protect yourself and your family from getting sick:

  • Get plenty of rest
  • Wash your hands with soap and water after using the bathroom
  • Wash fruit, vegetables and other foods before eating
  • Disinfect all potentially contaminated surfaces, especially high-traffic areas such as the kitchen
  • Wash potentially contaminated clothing and bedding items immediately

How to treat the stomach flu

If you are unlucky enough to come down with the stomach flu, there is not much you can do other than:

  • Rest: Your body needs to rest to have the strength to fight the virus. Get lots of sleep and limit your daily activities.
  • Hydrate: Make sure you keep your fluid intake optimal, especially if you have been vomiting or have diarrhea. Water and soups are your best options. Learn more about the importance of staying hydrated.
  • Medicate: Depending on the severity of your symptoms, your doctor may prescribe medication to deal with aches, pains, nausea and diarrhea. Consult your doctor before taking any medication.

Deal with the stomach flu and many other seasonal viruses proactively by exploring your health care options. Get affordable health insurance today with Blue Cross.