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Gastroenteritis or Stomach Flu

Disease: Gastroenteritis (GAS-tro-en-ter-i-tis) or the "stomach flu" is an illness of the stomach and intestines. Most of the time the illness is caused by a virus.

It is NOT the same as influenza or the "flu." Influenza is a different virus, and it does not cause gastroenteritis. The flu is a respiratory infection involving the lungs.

Transmission/Incubation: Symptoms usually begin about 24 to 48 hours after infection, but they can appear as early as 12 hours after exposure.

Gastroenteritis can spread easily from person to person. Both stool and vomit are infectious. Particular care should be taken with young children in diapers who may have diarrhea. It can also be spread by eating or drinking contaminated food or water.

People with gastroenteritis are contagious from the moment they begin feeling ill to at least 3 days after recovery.

Symptoms: The illness often begins suddenly, but it is brief, lasting 1 or 2 days in most cases. Occasionally it can last as long as 10 days. The infected person may have the following symptoms:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach cramps
  • Low-grade fever
  • Chills and muscle aches
  • Headache
  • Tiredness

Treatment: Currently, there is no antibiotic treatment available and there is no vaccine to prevent infection. The influenza vaccine or "flu shot" will not protect a person from gastroenteritis, since the influenza virus does not cause gastroenteritis.

When people are ill with vomiting and diarrhea, they should drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Dehydration among young children, the elderly and the chronically ill can be common, and it is the most serious health effect that can result from the infection.

Prevention: You can decrease your chance of becoming ill with gastroenteritis or passing it on to others by following these preventive steps.

  • Stay home while sick.
  • Frequently wash your hands, especially after toilet visits, changing diapers and before eating or preparing food.
  • Carefully wash fruits and vegetables, and cook oysters before eating them.
  • Thoroughly clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces immediately after an episode of illness by using a bleach-based household cleaner.
  • Immediately remove and wash clothing or linens that may be contaminated with the virus after an episode of illness. Use hot water and soap.
  • Flush or discard any vomit or stool in the toilet and make sure that the surrounding area is kept clean.

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