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Stomach Bug: Not a Flu, but Time-Consuming!

April 17, 2017 at midnight

We call it 'stomach flu' or a 'stomach bug'. Medical practitioners call it gastroenteritis. It only became known as 'stomach flu' because of a similarity between its symptoms and those of influenza. Fundamentally, the conditions are caused by different pathogens altogether. Gastroenteritis can be caused by a variety of viruses and bacteria, whereas serious flu is caused by a specific virus.


The most likely cause of gastroenteritis is either the norovirus, rotavirus, and a variety of adenoviruses, parvoviruses, and astroviruses. Rotavirus is commonly found in children, marked by diarrhea and subsequent dehydration. Escherichia coli and Campylobacter are the primary bacterial culprits.

How it Spreads, Prevention

Keep clean and stay clear of those who are infected. Gastroenteritis spreads via air (contaminated water vapors), ingestion (eating contaminated food), and physical contact, especially near the eyes and the nostrils. Since it is not caused by influenza, flu shots are not effective. Avoid touching the nose and the eyes - children, particularly, tend to have moist, wandering hands, great for collecting and harboring bacteria and viruses. Adults should work on this as well, in addition to behaving responsibly in public by maintaining distance from other people so the spread of the condition can be contained.

A rotavirus vaccination is available, mainly for babies and toddlers. Interested parents should discuss the situation with their child’s doctor or visit a clinic. A less expensive method is to keep yourself as sterile as possible when handling your children.


The flu-like symptoms of gastroenteritis include diarrhea, stomach cramps, fatigue, sometimes even loss of appetite and bodily aches and pains. The flu has a higher lethal potential and affects the entire body, whereas the problem area of gastroenteritis is localized to the digestive and excretory tract. Symptoms of both gastroenteritis and the flu tend to last longer in those patients with poorer hygiene, which is typical of any contagious, viral diseases.


Gastroenteritis is usually diagnosed by its acute symptoms. As its duration is usually short, lasting from just a day or two to weeks, lab work is rarely considered to confirm its diagnosis in adults. One abnormality that may warrant a fecal culture is the presence of blood in the patient’s stool. Severe dehydration in children may also require some lab work for glucose and electrolyte levels as well as to test kidney function.


Gastroenteritis in adults is straightforward, but complicated in babies and toddlers. This section is mostly for adult patients. For very young children, make sure to read the next section: When to See Your Doctor.

Unlike the flu, gastroenteritis is easy for adults to self-diagnose. Keeping hydrated while maintaining hygiene is the key protocol throughout the duration of the illness. This is typical of any infectious viral illnesses. Pain killers are not necessary, and it is rare that the pain gets bad enough to require them. Any recommendation should come from a doctor.

Remedies are mostly focused on helping the patient through the process of resting and purging. Lemon peel oil has shown antiviral properties while ginger and turmeric work together to maintain healthy muscular function in the areas of the stomach. While caffeinated teas should be avoided as they can put stress on the muscles, herbal teas tend to help the body’s rehydration.

When to See Your Doctor

If you have a low pain tolerance and you're unable to try any of the remedies suggested online, you may need to consider a walk-in clinic or the emergency room. Keep in mind it's also possible that what you have is not gastroenteritis if the pain is unmanageable.

For babies and toddlers, vaccination may be the preferred method of prevention. A visit to a walk-in clinic or the emergency room may become necessary if a child’s reaction to the symptoms become overwhelming. It may not be a good idea to try homeopathic or other alternative medicines, as there is no way to communicate feedback, and these young bodies may not yet be able to handle essential oils and other substances.

Not Sick Yet?

Well, it’s going around, so keep yourself and your children as clean as you can. If you end up getting it, try keeping yourself secluded—at least until the diarrhea stops. Drink plenty of fluids. It’s not a serious condition for most of us, but it's likely to be an ordeal for a few days!



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