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Stomach Flu Symptoms: Bacterial and Viral Gastroenteritis

Edmund has spent the last ten years working in clinical research. He has written many articles on human anatomy and physiology.

How to identify and treat the stomach flu

How to identify and treat the stomach flu

Do You Have the Stomach Flu?

About 200,000 people are hospitalized every year due to stomach flu symptoms. It is a very common illness and brings with it several days of misery. Stomach flu is the lay term for gastroenteritis. It occurs when one or a variety of stomach viruses, bacteria, or parasites invade the body and attack the gastrointestinal tract (stomach and small intestine). It is called viral gastroenteritis, when the pathogen is a virus, and bacterial gastroenteritis, when it is a bacteria.

The symptoms are most prevalent from October to March.

Common Symptoms:

  • diarrhea
  • bloody diarrhea—in serious cases
  • abdominal pain or cramps
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • fatigue
  • headache
  • fever

Is the Stomach Flu Contagious?

Stomach flu is very contagious. It is mainly spread when fecal particles from an infected person are introduced into the oral cavity of an uninfected person. Children are easily infected as they are more likely to put a contaminated object in their mouth. Imagine the following scenario; a child touches his or her diaper and then grabs a few toys. Another child then takes one of these toys and puts it in his or her mouth. This mode of transmission is also applicable for many other diseases. This is why hygiene is a very important method of prevention.

Is the Stomach Flu Life-Threatening?

Stomach flu can be life-threatening. One of the most important things to look out for is dehydration. Dehydration can occur if you fail to rehydrate after losing the majority of fluids in your body through vomiting and diarrhea. Inadequate body fluids have an immediate severe impact on body systems; this makes dehydration life-threatening.

Warning signs of dehydration include but are not limited to:

  • production of less urine
  • darker urine
  • dry mouth
  • sticky mouth
  • cracked lips
  • dry skin
  • light-headedness and dizziness
  • thirst

Thirst is also a warning sign of dehydration but occurs at a later stage. This means that you may already be dehydrated by the time you are thirsty.

Washing your hands properly helps

Washing your hands properly helps

How to Prevent the Stomach Flu

First of all, prevention is better than cure. There is a vaccine available, at least for infants. It is worth getting vaccinated in order to prevent infection during the winter months. A vaccinated person is far less likely to bring home the disease than someone who is unvaccinated.

Secondly, remember mom’s advice; wash your hands properly before every meal, and also before and after changing a diaper. Wash your hand properly after using the toilet or when you think you may have touched a contaminated object.

Clean all commonly used surfaces regularly. Microbes can move from one person to the next through contact with commonly used surfaces.

Keep your children at home when they become infected. This will help prevent the spread of the disease, especially at school or at the child care center.

Treatments for Gastroenteritis

There are no treatments for viral gastroenteritis, and antibiotics are seldom prescribed for bacterial gastroenteritis. The body usually gets rid of the bug on its own. If you were unfortunate and got infected, the symptoms may last for 2-7 days. An antibiotic regimen will be futile if the infection is caused by a virus.

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Remember to drink enough fluids containing electrolytes. Drink in small, frequent sips to replenish your body fluids. Emptying your glass in a gulp could cause you to throw up.

Get plenty of sleep. If you have a fever and chills, grab a good blanket and keep warm. You should gradually feel better with time. The toxin is usually expelled from the body naturally without any medicine.

Call the doctor if you have any warning signs of dehydration or any worries at all. The doctor may prescribe you something to calm diarrhea and vomiting. Seek medical attention immediately if your symptoms become severe, do not stop after three days, or if you have been vomiting for more than 24 hours.

A summary of the differences between stomach flu (gastroenteritis) and the common flu (influenza).

ParameterGastroenteritisInfluenza Flu

Diarrhea, abdominal cramps, abdominal pain

These are telltale symptoms



This includes rotaviruses, adenovirus, noroviruses, and some bacteria.

Influenza viruses

Site of infection

It infects the stomach and small intestine

It mainly infects the nose, throat and lungs

Peak flu season is usually from October to March. During other periods of the year, many people infected with influenza flu mistake their flu-like symptoms with those of gastroenteritis. Below are the major differences between the two.

  • Diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and abdominal pain are telltale signs of gastroenteritis—the absence of these symptoms means it is most likely not gastroenteritis.
  • Gastroenteritis hits a lot harder: one moment, you feel fine, and all of a sudden, you get very sick.
  • It is caused by a variety of viruses, including rotaviruses, adenovirus, astrovirus, noroviruses, and bacteria such as Campylobacter, E. coli, and Salmonella. Influenza is caused by influenza viruses.
  • Gastroenteritis attacks the stomach and small intestine, while influenza attacks the nose, throat, and lungs—but sometimes also causes stomach problems.

A flu shot will not protect you from gastroenteritis. The annual flu shot we get is to protect us against influenza.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


JM on January 24, 2018:

Thanks for the information!

Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on February 21, 2017:

I've just been suffering with this so can relate to a lot of the symptoms. Thankfully I'm on the mend now, thank goodness.

NekoLoko from Florida on January 08, 2016:

Thank you! I found this hub helpful and informative. I have been having stomach problems lately.

Edmund Custers (author) on September 03, 2013:

Aupadhyay, thanks for stopping by!


Very informative and useful hub. Thanks for sharing it. Voted it up.

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