Stomach flu, also referred to as gastroenteritis, is characterized by an inflammation of the stomach and intestines, especially the small intestine. It is caused by pathogens or disease-causing organisms, such as viruses (for example, norovirus, adenovirus, rotavirus, or calicivirus), bacteria (for example, Salmonella or Escherichia coli), and other parasites (for example, Giardia or Cryptosporidium) present in the food or drinking water. People who have problems in digesting dairy products (lactose intolerant) can also suffer from gastrointestinal irritation after consuming milk or other dairy products.
Symptoms of stomach flu vary based on the organism that causes it. In case the causal organism is virus, a patient suffers from frequent watery stools, whereas in case of bacteria, there is presence of blood in the vomit or stools. In adults, the most common symptoms are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach and abdominal pain. At times, these symptoms may be accompanied by swollen lymph nodes, loss of appetite, fever, and headache. In children, the notable indicants are pale skin, dehydration, and fatigue.
➜ Treatment depends on the causal organism. Hence, proper diagnosis of the disease is essential for administering the correct treatment. This flu is diagnosed based on the symptoms and physical examination of the patient. The doctor may conduct certain laboratory tests like stool analysis to rule out other health conditions.
➜ For this condition, there is no effective cure as such. Usually, the symptoms last for about 2 – 4 days. Though the symptoms resolve without taking any specific treatment and there are no long-term health effects, it takes about 2 weeks for the bowel system to return to its normal state. Hence, proper supportive care should be taken to avoid certain health complications. Antibiotics may not be effective for the treatment of stomach flu caused by viruses.
➜ The best treatment option is to rest the stomach and intestines until the symptoms improve to normal. This can be achieved by following a clear liquid diet, which includes drinking adequate amount of water and other fruit juices.
➜ Drinking lots of water will also help in keeping the body well-hydrated and preventing dehydration, which is a common complication of stomach flu. In case of vomiting, frequent intake of liquid foods in small quantities is advisable rather than consuming large servings. To get relief from body ache, the doctor may prescribe over-the-counter pain killers.
➜ When there is no stomach upset, one can start consuming soft bland foods like noodles, banana, and toast. These foods allow easy digestion and thereby reduce the pressure on the stomach and intestines. As soon as the symptoms are treated completely, one can switch to the regular diet plan.
➜ Please note that pregnant women, children, elderly persons, and those with a compromised immune system are more susceptible to gastroenteritis.
In order to prevent stomach flu, one should follow personal hygiene and cleanliness. Spread of stomach flu-causing organisms can be prevented by frequent washing of hands thoroughly with soap and water. One should not share clothes and foods with an infected person, as stomach flu can spread easily through direct contact or through body fluids like saliva or sweat.