Viral gastroenteritis, more commonly known as “stomach flu”. is an intestinal infection that can occur to anyone at any time, mainly through human contact.
The informal name ‘stomach flu’ itself is a misnomer – this infection is not related to the “flu”, or influenza. Influenza affects the respiratory system, leading to a runny nose, body ache and fever, with little or no diarrhoea and vomiting.
In contrast, signs and symptoms of stomach flu usually include diarrhoea, vomiting and abdominal pain.
Common virus types that are responsible for the infection include:
Fifty to seventy of cases of gastroenteritis in adults are caused by the norovirus, which is highly contagious and spreads rapidly. Norovirus can be transmitted by consuming contaminated food and liquids, touching objects contaminated with the norovirus and then placing the hands or fingers in the mouth direct contact with an infected individual (for example, exposure to the norovirus when caring for or sharing food, drinks and eating utensils with an affected individual) or exposure to infected individuals and objects in day-care centres and nursing homes. The virus can spread quickly in closed communities or places such as hospitals or cruise ships.
This occurs more often among children. It is usually transmitted through the faecal-oral route, in which the virus enters the body when a person comes in contact with an already infected person. Adults have a lower chance of contracting this virus as compared to infants due to their stronger immune systems and generally better hygiene practices.
General symptoms of gastroenteritis
The awful symptoms-diarrhoea, vomiting, and cramps-are actually your body’s defence mechanisms fighting to drive the virus out of your body.
- abdominal cramps and pain
- partial body aches
- mild fever
Patients will also experience dehydration as a result of vomiting and diarrhoea. These symptoms will usually last up to 3 days. In more severe cases, symptoms may persist up to 10 days.
Currently, there is no medicine that deals directly with stomach flu, although doctors may prescribe medications to alleviate vomiting or other symptoms.
While symptoms usually go away after 3 days for mild cases, patients should do the following to reduce the discomfort or prevent these symptoms from worsening:
Drink more water: This is especially important for patients experiencing vomiting or diarrhoea. However, avoid milk as some may be unable to tolerate dairy products for several weeks after the disease has run its course.
Opt for bland food that is easy to digest: Your diet should progress slowly from bland non-dairy soups and grain products to solid meal.
Avoid any food that may irritate your digestive system or is tricky to digest: Caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, dairy products, and fried, fatty, spicy or highly seasoned food can make your diarrhoea worse, and cause mild nausea. You should also cut down your consumption of high-fibre and gas-forming foods, such as broccoli and onion.
Get plenty of rest: This allows your body to recuperate and recover the energy lost due to the symptoms.
Remember that even after the infection has been cleared from your system, your digestive tract still requires time to heal from stomach flu. Bloated sensations may take a while to disappear. If you have any of the symptoms below, you should see a doctor immediately.
- Dry mouth and throat
- Decrease in urination
- Feeling dizzy when standing up
- Prolonged vomiting (more than two days) or vomiting blood
- Fever that exceeds 40 °C
“Watch for the symptoms of dehydration, including excessive thirst and dark urine, and drink plenty of fluids. Try drinking fluids with electrolytes along with water to restore your body’s hydration balance.”
Good hygiene practices: This includes cleaning, disinfecting or removing any contaminated items and washing hands thoroughly.
Avoid or reduce the time spent in crowded areas or closed communities: This is to minimise the risk of virus transmission through human contact, as these places are easy targets for a viral outbreak.
Childcare: Make sure that children and babies do not come into contact with soiled or dirty items and teach them hygiene.
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Getting rid of Norovirus
Norovirus is hard and tough to get rid of light cleaning won’t do the trick as the virus can survive mild cleaners. Use a concentrated solution 1/4 cup bleach and 2 1/4 cups of water to wipe surfaces that may have been contaminated with viral particles such as on countertops and toilet sinks. For other surfaces, use the same solution diluted with 9 more cups of water. Let the bleach solution sit for 10 minutes before wiping away.