Intestinal flu or viral gastroenteritis is caused by the viruses that damage the lining of the stomach and the intestine. However, contrary to its name, it is not caused by the influenza virus. In general, gastroenteritis refers to the infection of the stomach and the intestine, that can be caused by viruses, bacteria, parasites, and protozoa.
Even certain medications can alter stomach acidity, and destroy the beneficial bacteria while promoting the growth of disease-causing bacteria. This can cause an infection of the intestine and the stomach, or gastroenteritis. It is a highly contagious disease, that can easily spread from one person to another, if proper personal hygiene is not maintained.
Causes of Stomach Flu
Intestinal flu is mainly caused by four types of viruses - rotaviruses, adenoviruses, caliciviruses, and astroviruses. The rotavirus is the leading cause of stomach flu and diarrhea in infants in the age group of 3 to 15 months. Adenovirus usually causes viral gastroenteritis in children below the age of 2 years.
Caliciviruses can cause infections in any age group, while astroviruses mainly infect young children and the elderly. So, these four types of viruses are responsible for causing viral gastroenteritis. But gastroenteritis in general, can be caused by factors other than viruses. A bacterial infection, as well as the intake of certain medications like antibiotics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and aspirin are some important factors that can cause gastroenteritis.
Stomach Flu Symptoms
The symptoms of viral gastroenteritis can be mild or severe, and can appear within 1 to 3 days from the time of contracting the virus. The symptoms that are commonly produced by this infectious disease are:
- Watery diarrhea
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal pain or cramps
- Loss of appetite
- Low-grade fever
- General weakness and muscle pain
Diagnosis and Treatment
Viral gastroenteritis is usually diagnosed on the basis of the symptoms, and the physical examination of the patient. A stool sample of the patient is also examined to find out the presence of rotavirus and norovirus, and to rule out the possibility of bacterial and parasitic infections.
Presently, there are no specific treatment for viral gastroenteritis. Antibiotics that are used for treating bacterial infections of the intestine are not effective in treating viral gastroenteritis. Medications are usually recommended to relieve the symptoms produced by this condition. If stomach flu causes severe vomiting and nausea, then physicians can prescribe the anti-nausea drug dramamine. However, this medication is not considered safe for pregnant women.
For diarrhea, antidiarrheal drugs like Kaopectate, Imodium, and Pepto-Bismol can be used. Severe and persistent vomiting and diarrhea can cause a loss of fluid and electrolytes. So, be sure to drink plenty of fluid or water to avoid dehydration. In the meantime, it is very important to give your stomach some rest by not consuming any solid food for a few hours. After a couple of hours, you can eat solid food, but ideally one should follow a bland diet for a couple of days. A bland diet usually includes clear liquid, rice, bananas, applesauce, and dry toast. But foods like caffeine, dairy products, alcohol, and fatty and greasy food should be avoided during this period.
If the symptoms of gastroenteritis do not improve within 24 to 48 hours, then consult your physician. If vomiting and diarrhea persist or worsen, then medical intervention can be required. However, be sure to take any kind of medications only with the approval of your health care provider. To prevent this disease in the future, maintain good personal hygiene. Even a simple habit like washing the hands before eating can help prevent the spread of viral gastroenteritis. Also important is to avoid sharing food and drinks with people suffering from gastroenteritis.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be replaced for the advice of a medical professional.