Stomach bug survival: What you need to know about gastroenteritis
Whether you call it a stomach bug, a virus or the flu, gastroenteritis can be painful, frustrating and all-around unpleasant. And there’s no vaccine that can help protect you against it.
Understanding gastroenteritis and what you can do to feel better when you get it can help ease its punch to the gut.
What is gastroenteritis?
While often referred to as the stomach flu, gastroenteritis isn’t the same as influenza, which only affects your upper respiratory system. Gastroenteritis happens when the lining of your intestines become inflamed, causing intense abdominal cramping, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. You shouldn't have the stuffy nose and harsh cough that comes with the traditional flu, but you may experience the same body aches and low-grade fever.
Typically, gastroenteritis is the result of a virus that you catch from another sick person. You can also contract it from ingesting contaminated food or water. Symptoms usually appear within one to three days after initial exposure.
Because it’s a virus, there’s no antibiotic that will make gastroenteritis go away. Hydration and rest are key while you wait for the bug to run its course. If vomiting is severe, even a teaspoon of water every five minutes over an eight-hour period is enough to prevent dehydration. When you’re ready to reintroduce solid foods, take it slow and stick to bland options such as toast, bananas or broth-based soup.
Preventing the spread
Gastroenteritis is highly contagious, so it’s easy to pass along the bug even when you think you’re out of the woods. The virus can still be infectious up to three days after symptoms go away. Stay home from work or school when you’re sick and avoid contact with others for a few days. Wash your hands frequently in warm, soapy water for at least 30 seconds to minimize the risk of transferring the virus.
Even after you’re no longer contagious, it could be a while before you feel like yourself again. Be patient. It can take as long as 10 days to fully heal from a nasty case of stomach flu.
When to see a doctor
Gastroenteritis typically goes away on its own within a day or two, and most people don’t require treatment. Some cases can be severe, however, and complications can arise.
Get care at an emergency room if you:
- Are vomiting blood
- Have a fever of 104 degrees or higher
- Can’t keep liquids down
- Notice signs of dehydration
- See blood in your stool
- Experience severe abdominal pain
If your symptoms are moderate and not improving after 24-48 hours, visit your nearby Indigo Urgent Care. Like 85% of urgent care centers in the United States, we are open seven days a week to help you. Simply walk in or schedule an appointment online for an exam, diagnosis and treatment plan.
If you feel too rotten to get out of bed, try an online visit with a medical provider instead. MultiCare Virtual Care is a great alternative to getting the care you need wherever you need it.