Did you receive more than you bargained for this holiday season?
Many Americans have been sick with a stomach virus, sometimes called the stomach flu.
The ‘stomach flu’ is not the same as influenza, an upper respiratory illness. The stomach ‘flu’ is really gastroenteritis, and can result from a virus, parasite, or bacteria which spreads easily through contaminated food and/or water.
This year’s major strain is Sydney, which researchers first discovered in Australia in 2012.
Bacteria, Parasites, and Viruses
The types of bacteria that can cause gastroenteritis include Escherichia coli. Salmonella, Campylobacter, and Shigella. This type of bacteria is generally found in food, but infected people can easily spread their stomach illness if they’re not washing hands properly.
Viruses that cause gastroenteritis include adenoviruses, rotaviruses, calciviruses, astroviruses, and norovirus. The norovirus has been a popular virus that has been circulating the globe. You can pick up this lovely virus from contaminated food and water, or by touching contaminated surfaces. The GII.4 Sydney is a new strain of the norovirus that researchers first detected in 2012 - Sydney is currently the leading cause of norovirus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Gastroenteritis can cause painful bloating, nausea, vomiting, a low grade fever of 99 degrees Fahrenheit, and diarrhea. More serious stomach flu symptoms include vomit or diarrhea that contains blood, vomiting for more than 48 hours, a fever greater of 101 degrees Fahrenheit, abdominal swelling and pain in the lower right side of the abdomen. Gastroenteritis can result in dehydration, as well.
Stomach Flu Update: Nationwide Issue
The CDC has warned the public that the Sydney strain of the norovirus is so strong this year that even hand sanitizers and some cleaning products are not enough to kill it. Doctors tell 14 News in Colorado that although it normally takes about 1,000 flu particles to make a person sick, with the Sydney strain, it only takes about 18 particles.
In Connecticut, doctors at Saint Francis Hospital have seen an increase in patients coming to the emergency room with the norovirus. Even a few of the University of Georgia football players have come down with the norovirus, three days before their big game at the Gator Bowl.
Norovirus and Stomach Flu: The Good News
The good news with gastroenteritis is that it generally goes away on its own, especially if it is caused by a virus. Jason Dees, DO, a family physician in New Albany, Miss., and a member of the board of director of the American Academy of Family Physicians tells WebMD, “ The nice thing about the GI tact is, most of the time the body is able to care for it. The body is trying to wash out the infection or irritation and return your GI tract to its happy state. When it’s trying to do that, you have to be nice to your body and give it hydration to do that.”
Just watch out for sports drinks that can contain too much salt or sugar – sometimes natural remedies for stomach flu are less stressful to your body. Generally within 24 to 48 hours, symptoms begins to subside, and within three to five days, your gastrointestinal tract begins to return to normal.
Prevent Stomach Flu – and Most Viruses
Preventing gastroenteritis is better than trying to treat it. Although it’s not always possible, there are some steps you can take to minimize your chances of catching the stomach flu – or even the swine flu – this year. Wash your hands before eating and after using the bathroom. Don’t forget to get plenty of rest, as well. If you do get sick, stay home -these few small steps can do a lot for you, and also help prevent the spread of the illness to others.
Vaesa, Janelle. Norovirus GII.4 Sydney: Stomach Flu Spreads. (2013). Decoded Science. Accessed on January 02, 2014
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention . Norovirus. (2013). Accessed on January 02, 2014
14 News. CDC warning of new highly contagious virus. (2013). Accessed on January 02, 2014
EyeWitness News. Nasty winter stomach bug rears its head across Connecticut. (2013). Accessed on January 02, 2014
The Florida Times Union . Gator Bowl Notebook: Bulldogs battle stomach virus. (2013). Accessed on January 02, 2014
CDC. Effects and Clinical Significance of GII.4 Sydney Norovirus, United States, 2012–2013. (2013). Accessed on January 02, 2014
Webmd. Truth about Stomach Flu. (2013). Accessed on January 02, 2014© Copyright 2014 Janelle Vaesa, MPH, All rights Reserved. Written For: Decoded Science