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The Stomach Flu – What Do I Do?

There are two different types of "flu" that you can get this time of year. One is influenza, the upper respiratory flu, characterized by cough, high fever, head ache, runny nose and body aches. The second type is the stomach flu which has symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, and body aches. We are going to discuss the latter type of flu today and what you can do for it.

What is the stomach flu?
The stomach flu is also called gastroenteritis, meaning inflammation in the gastrointestinal system. The common stomach flu is usually caused by a virus. It leads to stomach cramping, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Usually the symptoms last 24 to 48 hours but may persist for four to five days, particularly if you have only nausea or only diarrhea. It is often accompanied by fever, chills, and body aches but does not always have this. Gastroenteritis is highly contagious and is often passed throughout all members of a family.

What can I do for it?
If you suspect you have the stomach flu, there are several things you can do for it at home. First, try to simply take small sips of clear liquids but try to stay away from solid foods for approximately 12 hours, working only on keeping yourself hydrated. Second, make sure you do not attempt to eat any dairy products or sweets for at least 24 to 48 hours. These products will irritate your stomach and lead to more vomiting.

There are some over the counter medications you can try such as Pepto Bismol for stomachache and diarrhea or loperamide for diarrhea problems. Tylenol tends to be less irritating on the stomach than ibuprofen for fever and/or body aches. Please check dosing on the package before taking any of these medications and contact your medical provider if you have any questions.

If there are people in your household who are suffering from this illness, make sure you all wash your hands thoroughly and use bleach-based products to clean toilets and other surfaces that are soiled. Try to keep the individuals who are ill away from small babies or elderly individuals with major health problems. Prevention is key so please encourage good hand washing techniques in children at a young age.

When do I need to seek treatment?
If you are having severe abdominal pain, this can indicate that you are having serious problems such as appendicitis or diverticulitis so you should seek medical treatment immediately. Also, if you have a history of diverticulosis or diverticulitis, you should seek care to ensure that you are not having an exacerbation of this problem. Any persistent symptoms beyond four to five days should be evaluated for possible bacterial infection or other complications. If you are unable to keep down water or other liquids for more than 24 to 48 hours or are experiencing signs or symptoms of dehydration, please seek medical treatment. Any evidence of blood in the stool or vomitus should be evaluated as well.

It should be noted that most individuals will be able to handle the stomach flu at home without any complications. If you are having persisting symptoms or any concerns, seek treatment. Any questions or concerns should be brought up to your primary care physician and it will then be determined if further testing or evaluation is necessary. Remember to wash your hands and encourage good infection control practices in your home.

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