Stomach Flu: The Number One Cause And Remedy

Stomach Flu

Table of Contents

What Causes The Stomach Flu

Every year, millions of Australians are struck down with the “stomach flu,” otherwise correctly called viral gastroenteritis. 

Gastroenteritis or the stomach flu will inevitably cause diarrhea, vomiting, cramps, fever, and headache. The condition is highly contagious, spreading like wildfire. 

What treatments will make life with the stomach flu less insufferable, and how can you avoid contracting it in the first place?

The stomach flu is not a stand-alone disease. In fact, the stomach flu as medical terminology doesn’t exist except as a nickname describing viral gastroenteritis. Whatever you choose to call it, the stomach flu is caused by several nasty viruses, such as noroviruses, rotaviruses, and adenoviruses.

The viruses target the digestive tract and cause inflammation of the stomach and intestines. The awful symptoms you experience, like diarrhoea, vomiting, and cramps, are your body’s natural defence mechanisms hard at work. Your body is trying to create conditions that kill off and drive the virus out. The fastest and most effective way to do that is by liquifying everything in your intestines, which results in the content reaching your bowels in the form of liquid poo, better known as diarrhoea.

Stomach flu can develop at any time of the year and in every climate. Although unpleasant to experience, the stomach flu is rarely serious or protracted. Symptoms usually last between 24-73 hours before resolving themselves. 

The greatest risk after contracting the stomach flu comes from dehydration. Untreated, dehydration can be dangerous. Keeping infants, toddlers, and the elderly hydrated is especially critical. The use of electrolyte supplements to replace those being lost is highly recommended.

The Difference Between Diarrhoea And Dysentery

Diarrhoea is a condition that involves the frequent passing of loose or watery stools, while dysentery is an intestinal inflammation, especially in the colon, that can lead to severe diarrhoea with mucus or blood in the stool.

Dysentery is an infection of the intestines that causes diarrhoea containing blood or mucus. Other symptoms of dysentery can include:

  • Painful stomach cramps.
  • Feeling sick or being sick (vomiting)
  • A high temperature

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Fun Fact

Despite the name, the stomach flu has nothing to do with the “traditional” flu, influenza. Influenza causes body aches and fever. It seldom causes diarrhoea or vomiting in adults. While rare, it can trigger vomiting in young children.

Treating Gastroenteritis

There is no “cure” for the stomach flu. Antibiotics don’t help because it is caused by viruses, not bacteria. For the most part, your body will be required to fight it out. While that process is taking place inside you, there are some things you can do to make yourself more comfortable and prevent complications.

Hydrate: It is important to increase your fluid intake significantly when you are vomiting or have diarrhoea. Adults should aim to get one cup of fluid every hour. Children need 30 millilitres of fluid every 60 minutes. Take small, frequent sips as too much at once could induce or worsen vomiting. If your child tends to gulp or not be interested in drinking, give them a frozen electrolyte popsicle instead.

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Drink wisely. When you have diarrhoea, drinking only water may not be enough. You are losing important minerals and electrolytes that water does not contain and that require replacement.

Oral rehydration solutions and products such as Hydralyte, CeraLyte, Infalyte, Naturalyte, Pedialyte, and generic brands are ideal to keep in your First Aid kit supply and use at these times.

Adults can use oral rehydration solutions like Gatorade or diluted juices, sports drinks, clear broth, or decaffeinated tea. Avoid sugary, carbonated, caffeinated, or alcoholic drinks that can make hydration harder and diarrhoea worse.

 The old advice was to stick with bland foods, such as the BRAT diet of bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast or liquids like broths and soups. That is fine for the first day or so of any stomach flu. You should return to your normal solid diet as soon as you feel up to it. 

Eat foods with potassium (such as potatoes, bananas, and fruit juices), salt (such as pretzels and soup), and yoghurt with active or live bacterial cultures. 

Use over-the-counter medications. They’re not necessary, but some people find relief in medications for diarrhoea and vomiting. Just use them with care and read and follow the label instructions. Never give medication for diarrhoea or vomiting to a child unless a paediatrician or GP recommends the use as part of their documented treatment plan.

Rest. Give your body time to recover and put your feet up. Catch up on sleep where you can and take the time to recharge your batteries.

How Do You Protect Yourself From Stomach Flu

The viruses that cause gastroenteritis come from contact with an infected person’s stool. You may contact the condition from an infected person that did not wash their hands after using the bathroom and then touched a common or public area surface, the same surface you touched before eating lunch.

 Stomach flu viruses are tough and can be long-lasting. Some can live on surfaces such as plastic, metal, wood, and service counters for months. Shopping trolley handles are a prime example of a common area location multiple people touch without thinking about who has touched them before they used the device.

Wash your hands. According to experts, this is still the best way to stop the spread of any virus. 

Make sure to use soap and water and do it. Always wash your hands after using the bathroom, before eating, and after changing a diaper.

Use hand sanitisers. If you’re not near a sink to wash your hands, use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser. Be aware that hand sanitiser may not be as effective as hand washing at preventing the stomach flu. Contrary to the false advertising on the labels, hand sanitisers do not kill 99% of bacteria. At best, they kill 33%. Using pure rubbing alcohol kills 95% of bacteria. They are two different products with very different alcohol concentration levels.

 If a family member has the stomach flu, disinfect using a mild bleach solution in the high-traffic contact areas — such as the bathroom, doorknobs, light switches, phones, and TV remotes. Where it is possible, keep healthy people out of the bathroom the sick person is using to prevent the spread of the highly contagious condition.

When Should You See A Doctor About Your Flu Symptoms

Most people don’t need to see the doctor when they have stomach flu. But it’s a good idea to get medical attention if you or your child has stomach flu, and they are:

  • Under three months 
  • Over three months old and have been vomiting for more than 12 hours, or the diarrhoea hasn’t gotten better after two days
  • An adult, and the diarrhoea has not improved after two days
  • Displaying other symptoms, such as high fever or blood or pus in the stool

In rare cases, people with stomach flu need to be hospitalised, usually because of dehydration. In adults, dehydration can cause extreme thirst, decreased urination, dark orange/ brownish urine, dry skin, fatigue, and dizziness. In babies and young children, dehydration can cause:

  • Crying without tears
  • Going three hours or more without a wet diaper
  • Fever
  • Dry tongue and mouth
  • Extreme crankiness
  • Sunken fontanel, the soft spot on the top of a baby’s head
  • Sunken cheeks or eyes
  • Anyone with signs of dehydration needs medical help and rehydration immediately.

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