Many people talk about the "stomach flu" when they're feeling sick to their stomachs, but in reality, it isn't the same as the flu. “Stomach flu or gastric flu is a common term for gastroenteritis which is inflammation of the digestive tract caused by viruses, resulting in acute diarrhea. It is not caused by influenza virus – but by other viruses – like norovirus, rotavirus, adenovirus, etc. – and spreads by contaminated food and water,” says Sujatha Anand, MD, family medicine physician on the medical staff at Cypress Fairbanks Medical Center Hospital.
Symptoms of gastroenteritis can include stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Symptoms usually last a few days, and then begin to fade. “Children are especially vulnerable to this virus due to their frequent contact with germs and it is very important to keep them well hydrated during this episode,” explains Dr. Anand.
The best thing to do to help your child start feeling better is to encourage them to get plenty of rest. Other things to help with their symptoms include not letting them eat solid foods if they are throwing up. Instead, have them sip fluids, such as water, or chew on bits of ice, or consider giving them an oral rehydration solution. “Oral rehydration solutions are a great way to replace fluids and nutrients lost through vomiting and diarrhea. It is safe for children and contains the right mix of salt, sugar, potassium and other nutrients to help replace lost body fluids,” says Dr. Anand.
Once the vomiting has stopped, it is usually okay to let them begin drinking more clear foods and drinks such as warm chicken broth, popsicles, and gelatin. When they start to feel better, try having them eat bland foods like toast, pretzels or crackers, bananas, and plain noodles. “Once their digestive system begins returning to normal, children can ease back into eating what they normally do,” says Dr. Anand.
Gastroenteritis is contagious and can spread to other people. “It is very important to teach good hand washing skills to your children, and to practice them yourself, especially before eating and after using the bathroom,” urges Dr. Anand.
“Stomach flu does not usually last long, but if the symptoms do not improve or become severe, it is important to check with your physician to be evaluated and treated appropriately,” adds Dr. Anand. If you or your child is sick with the “stomach flu,” visit your family physician. For a complimentary referral to a physician near you, call 800-681-2733.