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The stomach flu is one of the most miserable illnesses that people commonly get. Its brutal symptoms hit hard and fast and begin with chills, fevers and nausea that can worsen into vomiting, diarrhea, aches and pains.
What is referred to as the stomach flu is actually not a flu at all. Influenza––the actual flu––is a viral respiratory illness, while the condition known as the stomach flu is an intestinal infection called viral gastroenteritis.
The virus can be spread person-to-person through physical contact, consuming contaminated food or water or by not practicing good handwashing habits after using the bathroom or changing a diaper. While the stomach flu has no cure, its unpleasant symptoms are self-limiting as the virus passes through the body. Most healthy adults recover from the virus in a few days without having to seek medical care.
The best thing you can do if you have the stomach flu is to stay hydrated. The risk for becoming dehydrated greatly increases when dealing with sweating, vomiting or diarrhea. It can be a struggle to keep replenishing lost liquids when your stomach is making it difficult to keep anything down, but do your best to seek out clear liquids like water or broth. Avoid caffeinated drinks like coffee and some sodas until you recover––they can interfere with the sleep you need to get better and have a mild diuretic effect that can make you more dehydrated. Certain non-caffeinated teas like ginger or mint may help soothe your upset stomach and alleviate nausea.
Along with staying well hydrated, you must also have adequate nutrition for your body to recover from the stomach flu. It’s recommended that those experiencing nausea, vomiting or diarrhea consume what’s called the BRAT diet. BRAT is an acronym for bananas, rice, apples and toast. These foods help solidify stool, are gentle on the stomach and are full of carbohydrates. As soon as your body allows, it’s best to return to your regular diet so your body gets the nutrients it needs to recover. Infants and children may be advised by their doctor to take Pedialyte to replace lost fluids and nutrients.
If you are unable to keep liquids down for more than 24 hours, have been vomiting for more than two days, are vomiting blood or shown signs of dehydration, seek medical attention. Parents should seek medical care for their child if they have a high fever, seem lethargic or very irritable, are in a lot of pain or show signs of dehydration.