Stomach flu, also known as viral gastroenteritis, is an inflammation of the stomach and intestines caused by different viruses. The infection typically leads to vomiting and diarrhea. Stomach flu is considered to be the leading cause of serious diarrhea in adults and children. There are many viruses able to cause inflammation of the inner layer of the stomach and the intestine and some of them are astrovirus, enteric adenovirus, norovirus, rotavirus etc. The infective agents enter the gastrointestinal tract with contaminated water or food. Characteristic symptoms generally occur within 4-48 hours after the intake of the contaminated food or water. The condition predominantly affects young people, elderly and immunocompromised patients.
Clinical Characteristics of Stomach Flu
Stomach flu typically causes abdominal pain and cramping, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Apart from that some patients may develop fever accompanied by chills, clammy skin, joint stiffness, muscle pain, loss of appetite or leakage of stool. Excessive sweating may be another sign of stomach flu and in very rare occasions the infected person may vomit blood.
Vomiting may last for more than 48 hours and if one is not properly hydrated, due to loss of fluids he/she may additionally develop dehydration.
Incubation Period of Stomach Flu
Incubation period of stomach flu generally depends on the virus responsible for the inflammation. For example, if norovirus is the cause of the infection the first symptoms occur between one and three days after the exposure. The moment the symptoms develop the person is considered infective and may cause further spread of the infection. Contagiousness may extend for up to 2-3 weeks or even last longer. Incubation period of infection caused by rotavirus lasts from one to two days. In such case the affected person becomes contagious much before the symptoms and signs fully develop. After recovery patients remain contagious for approximately two weeks (children even more). And finally, if stomach flu is caused by adenovirus incubation period may extend up to a week while incubation period in patients infected with astrovirus lasts for 1-3 days.
Treatment and Prevention of Stomach Flu
Treatment for stomach flu is basically symptomatic. The goal is to alleviate all the symptoms and signs and prevent potential complications such as dehydration. Small children can be properly hydrated with oral rehydration solutions. In severe cases of dehydration patients require intravenous fluids.
Prevention against stomach flu includes impeccable hand hygiene especially after using the toilet, changing diapers etc. Furthermore, hands are supposed to be thoroughly washed prior to every meal as well as preparation of meals. And finally, it is not advisable to share any items with people who are suspected to be suffering from stomach flu.