What we typically call "stomach flu" is actually known as gastroenteritis, and it has nothing to do with influenza. In fact, its most common symptoms are diarrhea and vomiting. The keys to recovery are stopping the diarrhea, drinking lots of fluids, and following a mild diet.
What Is It?
Gastroenteritis is an inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. It's highly contagious — in fact, viral gastroenteritis is the second most common illness in the United States. The most common viruses include rotavirus (especially in children), norovirus (a.k.a. Norwalk virus), and others.
What Are the Causes?
Typically gastroenteritis is caused by a virus, but it can also be caused by bacterial or parasitic infections.
Gastroenteritis can stem from:
- Contaminated water and food (especially seafood)
- Contact with an infected person
- Unwashed hands
- Dirty utensils
What Are the Symptoms?
The main symptom of gastroenteritis is diarrhea. Other common symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain
- Sweating or clammy skin
How Do You Treat It?Most cases of gastroenteritis can get better on their own over time, without the need for a medicine such as IMODIUM®. But the most important thing to do is to treat your symptoms and prevent dehydration. Lots of your body's fluids are lost from diarrhea and vomiting.
- Rehydrate yourself. Drink lots of bottled water or sports drinks with electrolytes.
- Avoid dairy products, caffeine, and alcohol until your symptoms subside.
How Can You Prevent It?
You can reduce your risk of getting gastroenteritis by:
- Washing your hands frequently, especially after going to the bathroom, changing diapers, and working with food.
- Washing your hands before eating.
- Cleaning and disinfecting kitchen surfaces, especially when working with raw meat or eggs.