Stomach Flu (Gastroenteritis )

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.

What are the most common causes of the stomach flu (gastroenteritis)?

Viral causes of stomach flu

The most prevalent cause of gastroenteritis in the U.S. and the world is Norovirus. It causes about 50% to 70% of viral gastroenteritis cases, while Rotavirus, Astrovirus, Adenovirus, and Sapovirus strains cause most of the other viral gastroenteritis infections. Norovirus also was listed as the leading cause of gastroenteritis in children under 5 years old according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Bacterial causes of stomach flu

Bacterial causes of gastroenteritis that occur worldwide are Salmonella, Shigella, Campylobacter Aeromonas, and Escherichia coli (E. coli) strains of bacteria. Other bacteria like Clostridium, Vibrio, Campylobacter, and Yersinia spp can cause outbreaks occasionally. Occasionally, some bacterial causes of gastroenteritis (for example, Salmonella and , certain E. coli strains) may produce hemorrhagic or bloody diarrhea.

Parasitic causes of stomach flu

Parasites such as Giardia, Cryptosporidium, and Entamoeba infections can cause gastroenteritis and occasionally, other parasites have outbreaks such as the Cyclospora outbreak that occurred in 2012 to 2013 in the U.S.

Other causes of stomach flu

There are many other less frequent causes of gastroenteritis such as food allergies (eosinophilic gastroenteritis), antibiotics, and toxins. Gastroenteritis symptoms are frequently listed as possible side effects of many medicines.

How does food become contaminated with gastroenteritis-causing bacteria or viruses?

In most instances, food and drinks come into contact with feces contaminated with the infecting agent. This can happen in the fields, or in transport, storage, and processing of food and drinks. In processed foods and drinks, this contamination is relatively rare, but when it occurs, an outbreak of the disease is often traced back to faulty equipment, human errors in the processing and/or a breakdown of quality-control procedures.

How do I know I have the stomach flu (gastroenteritis)?

There are no specific tests for gastroenteritis, thus gastroenteritis is most often diagnosed by the symptoms it produces, mainly diarrhea. Because gastroenteritis is usually a self-limited disease, the large majority of people are never seen or diagnosed by a doctor. However, during outbreaks like those seen on cruise ships, viral and bacterial cultures or PCR and other immunologically-based tests can eventually identify the causative pathogen. By the time this identification occurs, most of the individuals with gastroenteritis have begun to recover.

When gastroenteritis symptoms become severe, most public health officials and health-care professionals run such tests to identify the causative agent of a specific disease, based on all of the history of the patients, physical exams, and symptoms. In addition, patients with similar histories of recent food or drink they had in common with others often helps to discover the source of the disease (for example, people who got diarrhea had salads from the same food source).

What natural and home remedies help soothe stomach flu (gastroenteritis) symptoms?

There are many different natural and/or home remedies that may help reduce gastroenteritis symptoms:
  • Home treatment consists of adequate fluid intake so dehydration is prevented
  • Clear fluids are recommended (Pedialyte especially for young children, Gatorade, PowerAde and other sports drinks), but not fruit juices or milk as they may prolong the symptoms
  • Salt
  • Ginger
  • Baking soda
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Basil
  • Chamomile tea
  • Asafetida spice
  • Zinc
  • Cinnamon
  • Mint
  • Turmeric
  • Yogurt
If dehydration occurs, the patient should be immediately evaluated by a doctor. Discuss home remedies with your physician before using them.

What should foods are recommended to eat (diet ) when you have the stomach flu (gastroenteritis)?

Some health-care professionals suggest a special diet for the gastroenteritis, especially for viral and/or bacterial infections in children. First and foremost is adequate fluid rehydration to prevent dehydration.

The diet frequently suggested is termed the "BRAT" diet. This diet consists of foods that are not usually irritating but soothing for the gastrointestinal tract. The BRAT diet stands for bananas, rice, applesauce and toast. Although some doctors think this diet may not markedly benefit patients, others recommend it for both adults and children for a day or two to make the transition from the resolving symptoms of acute gastroenteritis to the patient's previously normal diet.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/21/2016
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