Stomach Flu Symptoms and Treatment: Gastroenteritis the facts

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The stomach flu is “going around” as they say. Emergency rooms see and upsurge of cases of stomach flu or gastroenteritis in the fall and spring months, although it can occur at any time. Viral gastroenteritis is rarely serious in the adult population in developed countries such as the United States.  However, world wide it accounts for five to ten million deaths a year. Most of these deaths are young children and infants with no access to proper medical care that die from dehydration. Gastroenteritis is the second most commonly diagnosed disease in the United States.

Stomach flu is really a misnomer as gastroenteritis has nothing to do with the flu. Viral, bacterial or parasitic infestations of the GI track cause gastroenteritis with the most common cause being a virus. Gastroenteritis is highly contagious and people whose symptoms may be so mild they aren’t even aware they have it can pass it to others. The elderly, disabled and very young children are at highest risk for dehydration due to their more delicate systems which are less able to tolerate fluid loss and dehydration. The average healthy adult will recover from viral gastroenteritis without any particular treatment as it is a self limiting condition which is generally over in 48 hours.

Treatment of viral gastroenteritis involves fluid and electrolyte replacement by intravenous route. Expect an IV to need to be started on your child if you take them to the emergency room. Dehydration causes veins to become flat and harder to canulate and children’s veins are small so more than one attempt maybe needed. Dehydration can be life threatening in young children.

If your child is still wetting her diaper normally  and crying tears it’s a good sign as a general rules of thumb that dehydrations has not yet reached a serious level. Frequent small sips of clear liquids can sometimes be used to prevent the need for an IV if dehydration is not severe. In addition to fluids, antiemetic or nausea medication and anti diarrheal medication may be prescribed. A clear liquid diet will be recommended until vomiting and diarrhea has stopped for several hours. The diet can then progress to a bland diet. The treatment for adults is the same as for children. Most healthy adults can get over an episode of gastroenteritis without a trip to the emergency room.

There is no cure for the stomach flu or viral gastroenteritis; it is a self limiting disease that generally gets better by itself with or without treatment within 48 to 72 hours. It is very contagious and scrupulous hand washing is the best defense against spread. Some cases of nausea vomiting and diarrhea are caused by bacterial or parasitic infections and will need medication. These infections generally last longer than 48 hours. If in doubt, check with your doctor.

This article is informational and not to be taken as medical advice. Always follow up with your doctor for any questions regarding your health.

Sources:

http://www.merck.com/mmhe/sec09/ch122/ch122a.html

http://my.clevelandclinic.org/disorders/Gastroenteritis/hic_Gastroenteritis.aspx

http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Gastroenteritis_in_children?open

http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/viralgastroenteritis/

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