The vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, and more. Despite the fact that it's so common—there are at least 20 million stomach-flu cases in the U. S each year—many people don't know much about it.
For one, it's not really the flu! Here are 13 things you need to know about viral gastroenteritis its true medical name , starting with the fact that it's caused by viruses that attack the stomach and intestines. Advertisement 2 of 14 A flu shot won't help When people say "the flu" they mean influenza, a virus that circulates the globe each year attacking the nose and throat as it spreads through communities in waves.
Flu shots protect against this virus—not ones that cause viral gastroenteritis. But a flu shot won't protect against stomach bugs. There's no such thing as a stomach-flu shot at least for grown-ups.
This is a family of viruses most often to blame for adult gastroenteritis, although others include adenovirus and astrovirus. Rotavirus is the most common cause of viral gastroenteritis in babies and young children.
Norovirus can spread like wildfire in any crowded place, causing outbreaks in day care centers, schools, cruise ships, hospitals, and nursing homes. Advertisement 4 of 14 Getty Images It's extremely contagious Stomach flu spreads via the "fecal-oral route," which is just as gross as it sounds.
Basically, viruses from infected feces or vomit find their way into our mouths. Very diligent hand washing is your best defense, according to Dr. Wash carefully if you're changing diapers or cleaning up after a sick child, and grown-ups in the household should clean up after themselves if they can, advises Ryan Madanick, MD, a gastroenterologist and assistant professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill, N.
But norovirus is the number-one cause of foodborne illness in the U. Viral gastroenteritis can be spread from person to person or by touching a contaminated surface, but you can also get viral gastroenteritis from sewage-contaminated food or water, or meals prepared or handled by an infected person. Hence all those "wash your hands" signs in restaurant bathrooms. Advertisement 6 of 14 These germs are tough Compared to other viruses, noroviruses can be surprisingly hardy and live for days on household surfaces, which is why they spread easily.
That, and very few virus particles are needed to cause an infection. Wash your hands with soap and water, which is more effective than hand sanitizers. Avoid food prep if you're sick you can still be infectious for 3 days or more after symptoms wane , and wash laundry carefully, using gloves to handle soiled clothing and bedding if you can. Use a bleach-based cleaner to kill virus particles on hard surfaces.
Advertisement 7 of 14 Symptoms come on slowly Diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach pain don't hit you immediately after you're infected with a gastrointestinal virus, but typically develop gradually, over one or two days, Dr. But other types of food poisoning can strike fast and hard—within a few hours after you're exposed to the offending substance—and symptoms tend to be more dramatic, such as explosive vomiting and diarrhea.
Advertisement 8 of 14 Getty Images It gets better on its own Both stomach flu and other types of food poisoning are what doctors call "self-limiting," meaning they play themselves out and rarely require medical treatment. While norovirus is the leading cause of foodborne illness, germ-for-germ, salmonella and other bugs are more likely to result in hospitalization or death. If you've got viral gastroenteritis, you should start to feel better after two or three days.
While food poisoning due to other causes hits you harder and faster, it goes away faster too; you may be back to normal in a day or two. Advertisement 9 of 14 Dehydration is the biggest risk It stands to reason that if you're losing lots of fluid through watery diarrhea and vomiting, you need to replace that fluid.
But you're also losing sodium, potassium, and other minerals, known as electrolytes, and they also need to be replaced. You should drink Pedialyte, or similar oral electrolyte solutions that contain salts and sugar as well as water, if you have severe diarrhea. Sports drinks aren't a great choice, because the mix of salts and sugars they contain isn't exactly right in terms of replacing fluid lost to diarrhea and vomiting.