Not only is stomach flu contagious but is also the second most common illness in the United States. Although most people recover without any complications, stomach flu can be serious when people do not drink enough fluids to replace the water content in the body that is lost through vomiting and diarrhea. This can be especially serious in infants, the elderly, and people with a weak immune system.
What Causes Stomach Flu?
The most common type of viruses causing this stomach disorder are:
Rotavirus is the leading cause of gastroenteritis among children that are 3 to 15 months old. They are also responsible for causing diarrhea in children under the age of 5 years. This virus causes the person being infected by it to have to deal with symptoms like vomiting and watery diarrhea for 3 to 8 days. This may sometimes be accompanied by fever and abdominal pain. Adults in close contact with infected children can also be affected. However, the symptoms are usually milder in adults.
Affecting children under the age of 2 years, this strain of the existing 49 types of adenoviruses causes vomiting and diarrhea.
The noroviruse belong to the family of caliciviruses which are usually responsible for epidemics of viral gastroenteritis. These virus attacks are more frequent from October to April with the infected people experience vomiting and diarrhea, fatigue, headache, and sometimes muscle ache. These symptoms are also similar to a condition known as gastritis or burning stomach, which is primarily a food borne condition.
Infants, young children, and the elderly are more susceptible to this virus being most active during the winter season which displays symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea, 1 to 3 days from exposure.
Transmission of Stomach Flu
Depending on the type of virus, stomach flu can be very contagious and spread quickly from person to person.
Once a person is exposed to the virus, the symptoms usually appear within 4 to 48 hours and last for 1 to 2 days. In certain severe cases the duration may extend to as long as 10 days. Some people may remain contagious till up to 2 weeks of being infected by norovirus gastroenteritis. Similarly, the contagious period for rotavirus which is also a common cause of stomach flu is up to 2 days before you start displaying symptoms and up to 10 days after you recover.
The viruses are commonly transmitted by people with unwashed hands or by coming in close contact with infected individuals. Sharing food, drink, eating in the same utensils, or by eating food or drinking beverages that are contaminated with the virus can lead to a stomach infection.
Noroviruses typically spread to other people by contact with stool or vomit of infected people and through contaminated water or food poisoning. The usual outbreaks are in households, child care settings, schools, nursing homes, restaurants, and other places where people gather in groups.
Treating Viral Gastroenteritis
Due to the stomach flu being caused by a virus, antibiotics will not work at all. However, due to the dehydration caused by the vomiting and diarrhea, the best treatment is to intake lots of fluid. To provide the body with the appropriate nutrition and to keep it well hydrated, you can also try out a bland diet of rice, dry toast, applesauce and bananas. If there are signs of severe dehydration then hospitalization may be required, especially in infants, children, people with a lowered immunity and the elderly. Oral rehydration fluids and solutions are commonly advised to replenish the bodily fluids and electrolytes. The best way to prevent the infection is by maintaining hygiene. Washing your hands before and after eating, before preparing food, and after using the restroom and changing soiled clothing and diapers can reduce the transmission of the virus, and prevent the spread of the illness.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.