Stomach Flu Incubation Period

Stomach flu incubation period typically ranges from 1-3 days, depending on the virus that has caused the disease. The norovirus and rotavirus are mostly responsible for causing this illness in children and adults.
HealthHearty Staff
Last Updated: Feb 8, 2018
Although called so, the stomach flu is not related to influenza (the flu). While the flu is an infection of the respiratory system, stomach flu refers to an infection of the gastrointestinal tract, which causes it to become inflamed and irritated.
While the stomach flu, also known as viral gastroenteritis, could be caused by different viruses, the norovirus and rotavirus are the common culprits. Depending on these viruses, the incubation period of stomach flu may slightly vary.
Incubation Period
When you are exposed to an infectious disease, you don't start showing its symptoms right away. The pathogen takes some time before it triggers any symptoms. This period of time that lies between you contracting the infection and having the first symptom, is known as the incubation period. For stomach flu, this period depends on the causal pathogen.
The incubation period of a stomach flu caused by the norovirus is 1-3 days. The infection is most common in adults.
A stomach flu caused by the rotavirus, has an incubation period of 1-2 days. This pathogen is the most common cause of viral gastroenteritis in infants and young children.
In some cases, the stomach virus incubation period may range from 4 hours to as long as 10 days.
Incubation Period and Contagiousness of Stomach Flu
A stomach flu caused by the norovirus is not contagious during its incubation period. The affected person can pass the infection to others from the time symptoms begin to show up.
A person infected by the rotavirus, can make other people sick even before any symptoms show up. In other words, the infection is contagious while still being in its incubation period.
Contagious Period
Norovirus Infection - People with this infection, may remain contagious for at least 3 days after recovery.
Rotavirus Infection - With this infection, the contagious period may last for two weeks after recovery.
The Symptoms
An important symptom that indicates a viral gastroenteritis are recurrent episodes of diarrhea coupled with vomiting. The diarrhea is, in most cases, mild to severe. It does not involve blood in stools, but if it occurs, then it may indicate a more serious infection. Teenagers and adults may usually experience loose, watery bowel movements two to four times a day. Other symptoms that may occur besides these, include:
  • Fever (low-grade; 99 F)
  • Headache and muscle ache (not always)
  • Stomach pain (abdominal cramps)
Recurring diarrhea may lead to dehydration, which in turn may cause:
  • Fatigue
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Decreased urination
  • Sunken eyes
Treatment Measures
As unpleasant as stomach flu can be, it resolves on its own without any medical treatment. Following a few-self care measures at home helps manage the condition and its symptoms.
  • Preventing dehydration should be the foremost concern, especially when the sick person is a small child. Drink plenty of water (at least 2 liters a day). If your child is sick, then give him/her an oral rehydration solution. Avoid taking fruit juices, as some of them may worsen the symptoms.
  • Follow a liquid diet for sometime; it will help your stomach settle down, while relieving the symptoms.
  • If you think you can get back to eating solid foods, go for light and bland foods. Avoid dairy products, fatty, sugary or spicy foods, caffeine, and alcohol.
  • An infection such as viral gastroenteritis, can take a lot out of your body, making you weak and tired. So, while you are convalescing, give yourself plenty of rest.
  • Most people take anti-diarrheal medicines, but doctors suggest otherwise. They say that, it is better to let the body heal itself in its own way. However, if diarrhea is too severe, then using such medicines may be necessary.
Inculcating good personal hygiene is the best way to prevent stomach flu and most other infections. Washing hands after using the bathroom, and before and after eating is of utmost importance, and so is keeping distance from infected people. Extra precaution must be exercised when traveling in other countries. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a vaccine is available to immunize infants and small children against gastroenteritis caused by the rotavirus.
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.