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Stomach Flu Duration: How Long does Stomach Flu Last

Stomach Flu Duration: How Long does Stomach Flu Last

The medical name for stomach flu is gastroenteritis and is in no way related to influenza. Duration of stomach flu depends on the severity of the symptoms, age and overall health of the person. The symptoms usually subside within a week but sometimes they may last for 3-4 weeks.
Marian K
Last Updated: Apr 23, 2018
Stomach flu or gastroenteritis is a common term used to describe stomach uneasiness, often accompanied with stomach cramps, nausea, throwing up, and diarrhea. It refers to a condition wherein the stomach, small and large intestines are inflamed. Across the world, stomach flu is a leading cause of death among infants and children under 5 years of age. Nearly 5 to 8 million people die every year due to lack of proper treatment of gastroenteritis.
Symptoms and Duration of Stomach Flu
The main symptoms of viral gastroenteritis are stomach pain (abdominal cramps), frequent loose watery stools (diarrhea) and vomiting which eventually lead to dehydration. In many cases it is accompanied by headache and fever. Usually, the symptoms are felt within a day or two after the causative virus attacks the body. Duration of stomach flu depends on the severity of the attack. The condition may become worse in case of infants, young children and elderly who cannot drink sufficient fluids to compensate for dehydration experienced during the illness. For these people, stomach flu can last for 3 weeks or more. Bloody diarrhea with fever indicates bacterial gastroenteritis.
  • Viral gastroenteritis is more common than bacterial gastroenteritis. It is an infection caused by a variety of viruses including Sapoviruses, Rotaviruses, Adenoviruses, Astroviruses, Caliciviruses, and Noroviruses.
  • Bacterial gastroenteritis is caused by pathogenic bacteria like Salmonella, Escherichia coli, Campylobacter or Shigella.
  • Reactions to certain medications (laxatives, antibiotics) or other medical conditions (like lactose intolerance, exposure to arsenic / lead/ mercury) may result in similar symptoms.
  • Parasites like Giardia and Cryptosporidium can also cause gastroenteritis.
  • Swimming in contaminated water or drinking water obtained from a well may result in Giardia infection.

Only a medical practitioner can pin point the cause of the illness, and determine the treatment.
How Does Stomach Flu Spread?
Viral gastroenteritis is a highly contagious illness.
  • It is spread through contact with an infected person.
  • Sharing food, water or eating utensils with a person suffering from gastroenteritis leads to spread of the virus.
  • Consuming contaminated foods or beverages is another way.
  • Food is contaminated when people preparing or handling it do not practice hygiene.
  • Uncooked seafood, such as shellfish can be another source of this illness, if it is contaminated by sewage.
  • A person who eats raw or undercooked shellfish which has been harvested from contaminated waters may suffer from diarrhea.
  • If drinking water is contaminated by sewage, it can lead to a large-scale outbreak of gastroenteritis.
  • While traveling, one may use untreated water for drinking or for brushing teeth. This facilitates the entry of the virus into his body.
Before treatment, the illness has to be identified. Doctors can confirm the diagnosis on the basis of symptoms and medical examination. Laboratory tests, such as a stool test, is usually carried out. While treating a patient suffering from viral gastroenteritis, the most important condition to be addressed is dehydration. After a period of diarrhea and vomiting, patient loses a lot of fluids. Thus, the goal of treatment is to replace the lost fluids and electrolytes (salt and minerals), preferably through consumption of oral rehydration solution (ORS). It is available at most pharmacies and is easy to prepare. All one needs to do is, mix the powder with a certain quantity of clean or boiled water, and it is ready to drink. ORS should be consumed right from the onset of the illness. If a person has lost a lot of fluids, and is unable to consume any due to nausea, he/she may be given intravenous (directly into a vein) fluids. Further medication and treatment can be recommended by your doctor if required.
Yes, stomach flu can be prevented and following are the ways you can adopt to prevent it.
  • The primary way to prevent this illness is practicing hygiene, which includes frequent washing of hands, using clean utensils for cooking and eating.
  • Wash the clothes, bed sheets, towels, and napkins used by the infected individual daily.
  • Additionally, drinking clean water and consuming hygienically prepared food can prevent you from getting stomach flu.
  • Avoid foods or beverages you are unsure of. Avoid untreated water, unpasteurized milk, raw foods.
  • There is a licensed rotavirus vaccine available that protects you against severe diarrhea from rotavirus.

Although stomach flu is not a serious illness, it must not be taken lightly. If you or someone you know exhibits any of these symptoms, contact a medical practitioner immediately and remember to drink plenty of fluids. Gastroenteritis itself can be a symptom of an underlying condition, for example, shigellosis. So, you should not overlook the symptoms.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.