The condition that most people call “stomach flu” isn’t really the flu at all. The influenza virus causes flu; while the “stomach flu” is really a group of infections caused by noroviruses.
Noroviruses are quite common, very contagious and cause inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract (gastroenteritis). Main symptoms include:
- Stomach cramps
People can also have fever, chills, aches and fatigue. There is no vaccine for norovirus.
Noroviruses are easily passed on from person to person, and the virus can live on surfaces for up to 12 days. The condition is easily passed between groups of people in close quarters, and so outbreaks are often seen in schools, daycares, nursing homes and on cruise ships.
How long will I be sick?
Typically, norovirus infection comes on quickly and then symptoms go away within 48 hours. People with norovirus can continue to be contagious for up to two weeks after symptoms go away, though. If you’ve been sick, be sure to clean surfaces regularly, and wash your hands often and after going to the washroom.
What about dehydration?
Norovirus causes the body to lose fluids through diarrhea and vomiting. This can be serious, especially in young children and in the elderly. People with norovirus should drink plenty of fluids, and if they can’t keep fluids down and get severely dehydrated, they may need to go to the hospital.
How to prevent the stomach flu
Follow these tips to avoid getting sick with norovirus or spreading it to other people:
- Always wash your hands before eating and after using the washroom
- Clean and disinfect surfaces in your house if someone has been sick
- Don’t eat raw/undercooked oysters or shellfish
- Flush stool or vomit immediately and disinfect surrounding areas
- Immediately remove and wash clothes that have gotten stool or vomit on them
- Stay away from others if you are sick
- Wash your hands often
- Wash fruits and vegetables well before eating
If you or a loved one is infected and has a weakened immune system or is very young or elderly, monitor the symptoms carefully, and go to the hospital if necessary. Most of the time norovirus is uncomfortable, but not usually serious.