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Stomach Flu: What to Know about this Contagious Spring Illness

April 23, 2019
person holding stomach

Though flu season is most closely associated with winter, it still is very active into the spring months.  The “stomach flu” is also prevalent during this time of year, which is actually a completely different illness than influenza. The stomach flu, referred to by medical professionals as gastroenteritis, is caused by a number of viruses, mainly norovirus.  It’s worth noting that getting a flu shot does not protect you from getting the “stomach flu,” but it does help to prevent you from getting influenza.

What are noroviruses?

Norovirus is a very contagious virus that causes gastrointestinal illness, which typically results in vomiting and diarrhea. It is the most common cause of illnesses from contaminated food (food poisoning) in the United States — an estimated 20 million Americans get sick with it each year.  Other than food poisoning, touching a contaminated surface, and then touching your nose, mouth or eyes can transmit noroviruses.  In fact, the notoriety of the norovirus comes from the ease with which it spreads from one person to another.

Symptoms of norovirus

Norovirus symptoms generally begin within a day or two of exposure. The symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pain and cramps
  • Fever and chills
  • Headache
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue

Treatment of norovirus

Though the symptoms can be severe, most people recover from the “stomach flu” within two days. There isn't a specific treatment for norovirus infection, because it's a virus, it cannot be treated with antibiotics.

The best way to prevent a norovirus infection is with good hygiene — careful hand washing can make all the difference.

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