With a season change into spring weather around the corner, we’re deep into the time of year when viruses tend to spread throughout our communities. Influenza gets a lot of attention this time of year, and for good reason—the flu is responsible for thousands of deaths annually in the United States alone. The “stomach flu,” medically called “gastroenteritis,” is also common. Seasonal stomach bugs can make you feel incredibly sick throughout the duration of the illness. Here’s what you need to know about gastroenteritis, and what to do if you think you or a family member may have caught a stomach bug.
What is Gastroenteritis? How is it Spread?
Gastroenteritis is an intestinal infection often associated with symptoms such as nausea, diarrhea, cramps, vomiting, and fever. While bacterial and parasitic infections can result in gastroenteritis, the vast majority of “stomach bugs” are caused by viruses, the most common being norovirus. Viral gastroenteritis is the leading cause of severe diarrhea in adults and children. In more serious cases, gastroenteritis can lead to significant dehydration.
Like influenza and the common cold, viral gastroenteritis is extremely contagious and can be spread via person-to-person contact, as well as contact with contaminated surfaces. Those sick with gastroenteritis can be contagious for as long as two weeks or more after being exposed to the virus.
How Do I Know if I Have Gastroenteritis?
Because gastroenteritis shares symptoms with certain other conditions (such as food poisoning from salmonella or E. coli bacteria), it’s not always easy to tell whether or not a virus—such as norovirus or rotavirus—is to blame. Symptoms of gastroenteritis can range from mild to severe; in most cases, they resolve within 2-3 days. Symptoms in older children and adults include:
- Abdominal cramps
- Muscle aches
- Low-grade fever
There are also a handful of potentially serious symptoms associated with gastroenteritis, such as the following:
- Abdominal pain
- Sustained fever of 104°F or higher
- Inability to keep liquids down
- Consistent vomiting lasting more than 2 days in duration
- Vomiting blood
- Blood in the stool
These symptoms require immediate medical attention.
How Can I Prevent Viral Gastroenteritis?
Just as with any type of virus, there is no one method for preventing viral gastroenteritis that is 100% effective. That said, you can take plenty of steps to protect the health of you and your loved ones, including the following:
- Practice good hygiene. By washing your hands regularly and thoroughly (especially after being out in public), you can dramatically decrease your risk of catching a seasonal illness.
- Disinfect surfaces throughout your home. Focus on areas such as bathrooms, bedrooms and the kitchen, and be sure to use a cleaning solution that is designed to kill viruses.
- Avoid those who are sick. If someone knows they aren’t feeling well or appears to be sick, keeping your distance until they begin to feel better is paramount.
- Stay home if you get sick! It’s best to keep our germs to ourselves when we aren’t feeling well, and resting at home will help to ensure that you feel better as quickly as possible.
What Should I Do If I Think I Have a Stomach Bug?
While viral gastroenteritis is self-limiting and typically clears up within a week at most, there are certain members of the population who are at risk of complications from dehydration—particularly children and the elderly. If you or a family member suspect symptoms are due to a bout of gastroenteritis, visit to ConvenientMD can help you get on the road to recovery, and put your mind at ease. Our providers will evaluate your symptoms to determine the root cause and recommend an effective treatment plan, which may include IV fluids for those who are significantly dehydrated.
If your digestive system has been feeling “off,” you may be suffering from gastroenteritis. Stop into any ConvenientMD location in New Hampshire, Maine or Massachusetts for an evaluation.