What You Should Know About the Stomach Flu

Everyone on the planet has had or will have stomach flu. Would you be surprised to know that stomach flu isn’t really flu at all? It’s actually a virus (norovirus) — and it’s highly contagious.

Stomach flu spreads from infected feces or vomit. Yuck, right? The best way to protect yourself and your family is for everyone to wash their hands often and well. If you’re changing diapers or cleaning up after a sick kid, clean up after yourself, too.

This bug spreads easily and is often picked up when we touch hard surfaces used by many (doorknobs, sink faucets, cutting boards). The best ways to keep things clean and virus-free are to:

  • Stay away from food-prep areas if you’re sick or recovering.
  • Wash your hands with soap and warm water — hand sanitizers don’t do as good of a job.
  • Wear gloves to do laundry.
  • Use disinfectant cleaners generously to kill viruses on hard surfaces such as counters, doorknobs and light switches.

Stomach Flu Symptoms

With a stomach virus, symptoms come on slowly over one to two days. Norovirus symptoms may include:

  • Cramps or aching belly
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting

These symptoms are similar to food poisoning symptoms. The easiest way to detect the difference is to note whether your symptoms came on fast or if they progressed slowly over a few days. If they hit fast, it could be food poisoning, which is caused by bad bacteria like salmonella.

Getting Better

The good news about stomach flu and food poisoning is they usually run their course in a day or two. But while you’re suffering, it’s important to stay hydrated. Replace the minerals lost through diarrhea and vomiting by drinking fluids that contain electrolytes — just steer clear of sports drinks that have a lot of sugar and salt.

Once you’re feeling better, keep your diet light for a few days with foods that are easy to digest.

Know Where to Go

If you or someone in your family has stomach flu symptoms for more than three days, visit your primary care physician (PCP). Other reasons to see your PCP include:

  • Bloody stool or vomit.
  • Lack of urine or dark urine, which may mean dehydration.
  • Oral temperature of over 101.5 °F.

Your doctor knows you and your family’s health history and can probably see you fast. Another plus to seeing your PCP? A low co-pay.

If a stomach bug strikes after doctor’s office hours or during peak flu time, you can get the care and attention you need at an urgent care center. Learn more about Emory Healthcare Network’s partnerships with organizations such as CVS MinuteClinics and Peachtree Immediate Care urgent care. Combined, these partners provide more than 70 locations throughout metro Atlanta and surrounding counties and put convenient care where you need it, 7 days a week and no appointment necessary.

When to Go to the ER

It’s time for the ER if you or someone in your care is suffering with:

  • A temperature over 102 °F for more than 2 days that doesn’t respond to medicine.
  • Severe dehydration (symptoms include dark urine or lack of urine).

If you take your child to the ER, have key information ready for the nurse or doctor. Keep track of when symptoms started, how they progressed, how long a fever or rash has lasted, how often your child has gone to the bathroom, any medications, who they’ve been in contact with, and any other health concerns. Bring water, snacks and a toy for your child.

If you’re not sure, call your family doctor or Emory HealthConnection to speak to an Emory nurse at 404-778-7777.


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