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What is stomach flu?

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What causes stomach flu?

Viral gastroenteritis (stomach flu) is an infection of the intestine caused by contact with an infected person or as a result of ingesting contaminated food or water. Stomach flu or a stomach bug can affect people of all ages, although it’s particularly common in young children. In adults, gastroenteritis is usually caused by norovirus which circulates all year round but is particularly common in winter, hence why it’s often referred to as the ‘winter vomiting bug’.

Symptoms of stomach flu include:

Some people may also experience a fever.

Treatment for stomach flu

If you’ve caught the stomach flu but are otherwise healthy, it’s unlikely you’ll need to seek medical advice. The best thing you can do for yourself is do the following:

  • Stay at home – this is important to limit the spread the infection and to ensure you’re getting plenty of rest.
  • Drink fluids – diarrhoea and fever can lead to dehydration. Make sure you’re drinking plenty of water. For faster improvements, try adding rehydration sachets.
  • Take over-the-counter pain reliefparacetamol can be used for pain relief and reducing fever. Make sure to always read the label.
  • Eat plain food – it’s important to keep your energy up with regular meals. Avoid spices or intense flavours. Instead, try plain pasta or rice dishes.

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How long does stomach flu last?

Symptoms of stomach flu appear between one to three days after transmission. In adults and children, vomiting tends to stop within two days whereas diarrhoea can last up to seven days. Generally, after a week you’ll begin to feel much better.

Is stomach flu contagious?

Yes, the stomach flu is highly contagious. If you suspect you’ve caught a stomach bug, the best thing you can do is stay at home away from close contact with other people. It’s also important to wash your hands regularly to avoid spreading the virus across surfaces. How long you are contagious for depends on which virus you have, for example you may be contagious from the day before you first experience symptoms and can remain so for up two weeks after you’ve recovered.

How is stomach flu transmitted?

There are three main ways that norovirus (stomach flu) is transmitted:

  • By eating contaminated foods or liquids
  • Direct contact with an infected person
  • Touching contaminated surfaces or objects and then touching your face

How easy is it to get the stomach flu?

Billions of microscopic norovirus particles are released from an infected person into the air and surfaces around them. Only a small number of particles are needed to make someone else unwell, which is why it’s important to stay at home if you develop symptoms to limit the spread of infection.

Do hot showers help stomach flu?

Whilst there is no clinical evidence to support hot showers helping stomach flu, a warm shower before bed can help relax you which can be beneficial for your recovery.

How do you sleep with stomach flu?

The symptoms of a stomach bug (nausea, fever, cramps) can make it difficult to get a full night’s rest. The following tips are from the NHS and may help if you’re struggling to fall asleep:

  • Ginger tea or peppermint tea – sipping ginger or peppermint tea before bed can help to ease an unsettled stomach
  • Distract yourself from feeling sick – sometimes listening to a calming podcast or TV show can take your mind off your symptoms
  • Get comfy – make sure your room is the right temperature, and find a comfortable position to sleep in (preferably on your side, especially if you’re feeling sick)

Read our handy good night’s sleep guide for more expert advice and tips.

Stomach flu vs food poisoning?

The symptoms of food poisoning are similar to stomach flu and the two can be easily mistaken. However, food poisoning tends to occur a few hours after eating contaminated food, whereas symptoms of stomach flu can take a few days to occur. Many bacterial and viral agents can be the cause of food poisoning. It’s important to keep track of what you’ve eaten to help narrow down the source of contamination. Use reliable online resources to help identify possible contaminants.

What happens if my stomach still hurts after stomach flu?

If you’re symptoms haven’t improved after a few days, contact your GP. Other instances where you should contact your GP include:

  • Bloody diarrhoea
  • Symptoms of severe dehydration (dizziness, no urine, losing consciousness)
  • Persistent vomiting (more than two days) or diarrhoea for more than 7 days
  • If you cannot keep fluid down because of being sick
  • Any underlying health conditions, such as kidney disease or a weak immune system

You can also use the NHS 111 contact number if you believe you have an urgent medical problem and you’re unsure what to do.