Have You Ever Had the “Stomach Flu”?

Viral gastroenteritis, an intestinal infection, is often referred to as stomach flu as it is a common infection affecting the stomach just like the flu which is a common infection affecting the respiratory system.

Viral gastroenteritis causes several signs and symptoms inducing stomach cramps, watery diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and fever.

The most common cause of viral gastroenteritis is the intake of contaminated food and water. Patients, who are otherwise healthy, often recover without any complications. However, infants, patients with compromised immune systems, and older adults are likely to develop serious complications due to viral gastroenteritis.

What are the risk factors for stomach flu?

Young children

Children in elementary schools and child care centers are more vulnerable to developing stomach flu as it takes time for the immune system of children to mature.

Older adults

The immune system tends to become weaker as age increases. Hence, older adults, especially those living in nursing homes, are more vulnerable to developing stomach flu.

They are also likely to be living in close contact with others who might pass the virus and cause infection.

School children and dormitory residents

Places, where large groups of people stay in close quarters or come together for an event, could be an environment for the intestinal infections to spread.

Patients with a weak immune system

People who have a low resistance to infections such as those whose immune systems have been compromised due to factors like HIV/AIDS, chemotherapy, and any other medical condition are at a high risk of stomach flu and other intestinal infections.

What are the causes of stomach flu?

Eating or drinking contaminated food or water is the most common cause of stomach flu. Patients are also likely to develop viral gastroenteritis if they share utensils, food, or towels with someone who is affected by the viruses causing this condition.

The common viruses known to cause gastroenteritis include the following:


Noroviruses can affect both children and adults. It is the most common cause of stomach flu and other foodborne illnesses across the world.

Norovirus infection often spreads widely, sometimes sweeping through families and even communities. It is likely to spread among people living in confined spaces.

Usually, people pick up the virus due to the intake of contaminated food or water. However, it may also spread between people in close contact and due to the sharing of food. It may also spread due to touching the objects and surfaces that have been contaminated with norovirus and then, putting the hand in the mouth.


Rotavirus is the most common cause of stomach flu in children. They are usually infected when they put fingers and other contaminated objects in their mouths. It may also spread through contaminated food and drinks.

The infection is more severe in infants and children.Adults with rotavirus usually do not have any severe symptoms. However, they can still spread the infection. This is a major concern in institutional settings like nursing homes where adults infected with the virus may unknowingly pass the infection to others.

Doctors and other healthcare professionals can attend our Respiratory Therapy Continuing Education CEUs to learn the latest guidelines about the treatment and prevention of this infection.

What are the symptoms of stomach flu?

Although viral gastroenteritis is commonly referred to as stomach flu, gastroenteritis is not the same as the flu affecting the respiratory system. The flu (or influenza) affects only the tissues of the respiratory system including the nose, throat, or lungs.

Viral gastroenteritis, on the other hand, can attack the stomach and intestines, causing symptoms such as:

  • Watery, diarrhea (usually non-bloody)
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Cramps and pain in the Stomach
  • Low-grade fever
  • Severe headache
  • Occasional muscle aches

Depending on the causative factors, the symptoms of viral gastroenteritis may appear within 1 to 3 days after the patient is infected.  The symptoms generally last a day or two, although in some cases, they may persist for 10 days or longer.

You can attend our AARC Approved CEUs to learn more about the symptoms and causes of stomach flu and the most effective ways to prevent and treat it.

Prevention of stomach flu


Getting vaccinated against gastroenteritis caused due to the rotavirus is one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of stomach flu.

The vaccine is available in several countries, including the United States. It is administered to children in the first year of life and appears to be effective in the prevention of severe symptoms of the illness.

Follow hygiene practices

Washing the hands thoroughly and making sure children also do the same is one of the effective ways to avoid the spread of infection within families. Once the children have become older, they should be taught to wash their hands, especially before eating and after using the toilet.

Parents should wash their hands before preparing or eating food and after changing diapers. It is advisable to use warm water and soap and rub hands well for at least 30 seconds to avoid the spread of infections. The hands should be carefully washed around the cuticles, beneath the fingernails, and between the creases of the hands and then, thoroughly rinsed.

People are also advised to carry sanitizing wipes and hand sanitizers to wash their hands, when soap and water are not available.

Use of separate personal items

Use of separate personal items is advised around the home. Patients should also avoid sharing eating utensils and plates and drinking glasses. They should also use separate towels in the bathroom.

Prepare food safely

 It is advisable to wash fruits and vegetables before cooking or eating them. The kitchen surfaces should be cleaned before preparing food.

Treatment of stomach flu

There is no specific treatment for the management of stomach flu or viral gastroenteritis. Antibiotics are not effective against viral infections. The initial treatment involves staying hydrated and self-care measures. Medication to relieve the symptoms may also be prescribed.


Taking hygienic precautions is the most effective way to prevent the risk of stomach flu.

Doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals can attend our AARC Approved Live Respiratory CEUs to learn more about the causes, risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of stomach flu and the latest guidelines for the prevention of this infection.