What's a Stomach FluYou wake up in the morning, your stomach is rolling. You feel so nauseated that you have to focus all of your energy on trying not to vomit. Then, you feel so awful you hope to vomit, just so that you might feel better. Or, a few hours after eating, you’re stuck on the toilet every fifteen minutes, keeping you from going to work or getting anything done. Worst case scenario, you’re stuck on the toilet at the same time you’re puking into a trashcan. Unfortunately, almost everyone has experienced these symptoms at some time in his or her life. These symptoms are almost always descried as having “the stomach flu.”

Is a Stomach Flu the Flu?

Flu specifically refers to a class of virus known as the influenza virus. The influenza virus affects only the respiratory system; specifically the lungs, throat, and nose. The stomach flu is also known as viral gastroenteritis, and affects the digestive system, causing mild to serious diarrhea and vomiting. The good news is viral gastroenteritis isn’t caused by the influenza virus, so the patient shouldn’t experience any respiratory symptoms. The bad news is, the patient still might experience fever, chills, sweats, and body aches, and there’s not a shot to protect you from viral gastroenteritis.

How Do You Catch It?

The name of the most common virus that causes acute gastric symptoms is the norovirus. Anyone can get the norovirus. Norovirus is one of the most easily transmitted viruses known today. It takes fewer than 100 viral particles to make an individual sick, so it’s easily transmitted in public restrooms or by coming into contact with infected individuals.

Individuals infected with the virus shed billions of particles in their feces and vomit, so they quickly and easily infect others. Norovirus spreads quickly among people who are in close contact with each other such as those traveling on cruise ships, children in daycare centers, and individuals in nursing homes. Norovirus can stay on objects and infect people weeks later. Worse, Individuals are still contagious for up to a week after they feel completely better.

What to Do If You Get It

The Norovirus, or any virus, cannot be treated with antibiotics. You might feel terrible for the next several days, and even though you feel like you might die, the greatest danger is actually dehydration. The most important thing an individual must do to get through a bout of gastroenteritis is to drink plenty of fluids to replace everything lost through vomiting and diarrhea. If you suspect that you or someone you know is dehydrated, contact a physician immediately to be evaluated.

Once you’re fully recovered, remember to try to limit contact with others as you are still contagious for up to a week after you feel completely better.