Consultant Acute & General Physician
Published on: 24/06/2022
Stomach Flu, also known as gastroenteritis, is a relatively common condition that occurs when the stomach and intestines become inflamed due to infection by viruses, bacteria or parasites. The resulting symptoms are stomach pain, nausea and diarrhoea.
Stomach flu symptoms:
The main symptoms of gastroenteritis or stomach flu can appear within minutes after consumption of the contaminated food. It may also take up to 1 day to show the symptoms when the infectious agent is present in the food. The main signs and symptoms indicative of gastroenteritis are:
- Intense and sudden diarrhoea
- General malaise
- Stomach pain
- Nausea and vomiting
Other symptoms include low-grade fever and headache.
What causes stomach flu?
Most often, gastroenteritis is caused by eating spoiled or contaminated food, but it can also occur after close contact with another person with gastroenteritis or by putting your hands in your mouth after touching a contaminated surface.
Types of Gastroenteritis
Gastroenteritis can be divided into a few different types. These include:
Viral gastroenteritis is the most common type, often affecting children. It is caused by infection with viruses that affect the digestive tract. The most common cause of this type of gastroenteritis is rotavirus.
Bacterial gastroenteritis is caused by bacteria. It is more common in adults than the viral form because, at this stage of life, people usually have already developed immunity to the main viral infections that cause gastroenteritis. It is usually contracted through contaminated food, often E. coli, although this is not the only bacterium capable of causing the disease.
The main characteristic of haemorrhagic gastroenteritis is intestinal bleeding. In humans, it is usually caused by the bacterial form, specifically due to E. coli bacteria.
How to diagnose Stomach Flu?
Diagnosis is usually clinical, with stool examination which determines the causative virus. Although the pathology is not fatal in itself, the dehydration it produces, if sufficient fluids are not ingested, can be fatal; this is why the specialist will normally look for signs of dehydration, like dry mouth, dark yellow urine, sunken eyes, low blood pressure, sunken spots on the head (in the case of babies), confusion, and dizziness.
Gastroenteritis usually disappears in a few days without the need for treatment. However, it is very important to see a specialist if symptoms of dehydration occur.
Treatment for Stomach Flu
Gastroenteritis requires dietary rest and water and electrolyte replacement with oral fluids. If a pharmacy or health centre is not available, water with bicarbonate and salt can be used to replace all the fluid lost through vomiting and diarrhoea.
Generally speaking, no medication is required because gastroenteritis usually clears up spontaneously. Antibiotics are only useful if the cause is bacteria, but they are not even applied in all cases because they can affect the bacterial flora (microbiota).
Anti-vomiting drugs (antiemetics) are of very limited effectiveness in cases of gastroenteritis or stomach flu.
Some specialists recommend probiotic preparations, which may help to shorten the duration of diarrhoea.
One of the most important precautions during gastroenteritis is to drink plenty of liquids, as vomiting and intense diarrhoea can occur, and it is normal to have loss of body water, which can lead to dehydration. In addition, one should also eat a light diet to allow the gastrointestinal system to rest and recover.