Stomach flu– symptoms, prevention and treatment

Article

22. 03. 2021 General practitioner

Does your stomach hurt? Do you feel under the weather, have nausea or diarrhoea? If the answer to any of these is yes, you may have a case of stomach flu. It usually comes at the worst time and in full strength- you may even have to battle through a fever. Be cautious and  know how to prevent it- a stomach flu can get to anyone- kids, adults and the elderly.

Stomach flu is also known by its Latin name “gastroenteritis” which consists of two words- “enteritis” which translates to an inflammation of the intestines, and “gastritis” inflammation of the stomach. So we are talking about acute inflammation of the intestines and stomach. "Patients who present with this very unpleasant viral disease often have symptoms that include diarrhoea, vomiting, general fatigue of the body and sometimes even a fever," is how Dr. Miluše Vostradovská, general practitioner for adults and internist from the Canadian Medical describes gastroenteritis, an acute inflammation of the digestive system.

The incubation period can be anywhere from a few hours up to seven days. The duration of the disease usually lasts only a few days, and especially in adults who can recover without any medical intervention or with simple advice from a pharmacist. Contrarily, children, the elderly or people with weakened immune systems should pay increased attention to prevention, and if they happen to present with any of the symptoms associated with gastroenteritis, they should see their doctor without delay.

Causes

Gastroenteritis can have viral, bacterial or parasitic origins all of which can cause an inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract.

How does stomach flu spread?

  • unwashed fruits and vegetables,
  • gone-off, poorly cooked or spoiled food,
  • contaminated water,
  • air-borne transmission
  • high consumption of alcohol
  • change of diet while travelling
  • in young children, it may also manifest itself as a reaction to a new food.

TIP: If someone in your household suddenly becomes ill with stomach flu, never share towels, sheets and other "personal” items with them during the course of their illness.

Prevention

  • Ensure good hygiene at all times
  • Wash your hands regularly - after visiting the toilet, clinics and hospitals, waiting rooms, public transport and other places where you encounter large crowd.
  • Use disinfectant or disinfectant wipes on the road.
  • Strengthen your immune system
  • Include more vitamin C in your diet, both in the form of fruits and vegetables or in the form of food supplements that you buy at each pharmacy.
  • Ensure you stick to a regular and adequate drinking regimen
  • Do not eat expired food.
  • Be careful when eating “street food” in exotic countries.
  • If you do not have a filter bottle with you on the road, do not drink water unless you are sure it is drinkable.

TIP: Wash your fruits and vegetables with dab of soap or drizzle it with a spoonful of vinegar and then rinse.

Symptoms of stomach flu

  • Abdominal pain, cramps, bloating.
  • Diarrhoea, nausea or vomiting.
  • Raised temperature or fever
  • Pain in the hands, feet, resp. joints or muscles.
  • Weakness or malaise

Not all of the listed symptoms may always manifest. "Differences in symptoms also occur in bacterial intestinal infection, which are often accompanied by raised temperatures than from viral infections,  and they are most often caused by Salmonella or Campylobacter bacteria strains. Viral gastroenteritis usually presents with vomiting or diarrhoea and is most often caused by rotaviruses. Viral gastroenteritis may also be accompanied by a mild cough, "adds Dr. Miluše Vostradovská.

How is gastroenteritis treated?

In most cases, adults can recover from gastroenteritis on their own without the need to see a doctor.  However, children and the elderly may have a harder time fighting off the infection. If you have diarrhoea or vomiting, consult your pharmacist. The most important rules you should follow for the intestinal flu is to ensure you replace any fluids and have a good intake of nutrients to replenish your body stores. However, if the diarrhoea or vomiting persists for several days (maximum three days) or if you have fever or blood or mucus in your stool, it is not good to underestimate the intestinal flu and you should seek medical advice.

Gastroenteritis is especially dangerous for infants (those that are still breastfed), young children, the elderly and people with weakened immunity. For them, diarrhoea and vomiting can cause severe dehydration or loss of fluids and rehydration can be very difficult. It is crucial to seek professional medical help in these individuals immediately. Effective rehydrating fluids that are recommended are electrolyte drinks (can be bought at the pharmacy) or cold black tea drunk by spoonsful.  Consult with a pharmacist about the best medication for reducing a fever. Suppositories are often recommended in children.

CAUTION: Dehydration can cause failure of various organs, such as acute renal failure. In infants, it is necessary to react quickly and expect a possible hospitalization.

How does gastroenteritis spread?

The culprits behind gastroenteritis can be of bacterial origin (most often Salmonella, Campylobacter) or of viral origin (rotaviruses or noroviruses).

Viral gastroenteritis is caused by rotavirus infections, and usually has a more difficult disease progression. It is usually transmitted by the faecal-oral route, in other words, direct contact with the infected person, for example in the form of a handshake or a contact with a contaminated area - a shopping cart, a door handle, a toilet handle and other public areas that we normally touch. In this case, the disease manifests itself from about one to three days after contact.

Noroviruses are predominantly found in areas with the occurrence of larger groups, such as nursing homes, rehabilitation and other health care facilities. Transmission occurs through contact with an infected person, as well as contaminated food, air and water. This disease can last from one to three days.

What to eat to ease gastroenteritis symptoms?

If you feel really ill, have diarrhoea or vomit, it is recommended to take a hunger break (fast) or skip a meal. However, it is still crucial to replenish fluids to avoid being dehydrated. Try to fast for at least one whole day. If you feel better the next day, you will feel hungry and your appetite will come back, your symptoms  should be milder overall. At this stage, start eating small snacks to gradually prepare your stomach for food. The best thing to do is to start with boiled carrots, bananas or dry, not completely fresh, white pastries.

You don't have to drink hot drinks; even cold ones will suffice. Sometimes Coca-Cola can help. It contains substances that calm the stomach, but ensure you shake out any unnecessary bubbles that would cause bloating, and then “drink” it by the spoonful rather than gulping it down. If nothing works, do not hesitate and consult a specialist in the pharmacy or look at our e-shop www.euclekarna.cz. Most gastroenteritis remedies can be purchased without a prescription.

You’re not feeling well but you’d rather try some natural remedies first?

We have some advice and tips; just like our grandmothers used to say. After all, they could really treat anything- even digestive problems. In addition to bed rest and adequate fluid intake, you can try the following- if it won’t help, it won’t hurt:

chamomile tea - relieves stomach cramps and is like a caress for an irritated stomach,

quinces – contain iron, potassium, zinc, calcium, B vitamins and they have very positive effects on digestion and diarrhoea,

rice -soothes an irritated stomach, absorbs fluids and adds volume to the stool,

bananas – are easy to digest, supply energy and, according to many studies, help stop diarrhoea.

mint – tea from dried leaves relieves flatulence, reduces cramps and cleanses the intestines,

raspberry and blackberry leaves– decoction of leaves aids proper digestion,

salt – a sufficient amount of sodium and potassium chloride when fluid and electrolytes are lost should be replenished in diarrhoea,

blueberries – can clean the intestines from parasites and bacteria,

yoghurt- live bacterial cultures our intestines will definitely appreciate.

Feeling unwell? Are you afraid you might have the stomach flu? Get in contact with our Canadian Medical experts.

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