Stomach problems may occur every now and then and they will eventually pass. But what happens when a virus enters your digestive system and causes a host of uncomfortable symptoms that last for several days? What you’re currently experiencing is what is commonly called a stomach flu, or gastroenteritis.
What Is a Stomach Virus?
A stomach virus (or stomach flu) is a condition that causes the stomach and intestines to become inflamed, resulting in a variety of uncomfortable, digestive-related symptoms.1 According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, there are many types of viruses that can cause this condition, chiefly:2
• Norovirus: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that norovirus is very contagious and can spread via a number of ways, such as through contaminated food, water or surfaces.3 It is also considered the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis.4
• Rotavirus: The rotavirus belongs to the Reoviridae family of viruses, and is identified by its double-stranded RNA enclosed by a double-shelled outer layer. As with other viruses, it is very contagious and causes severe diarrhea among infants and children.5
• Astrovirus: Astrovirus strains are single-stranded, positive-sense and non-enveloped RNA viruses belonging to the Mamastrovirus family. The virus is contagious among children and the elderly, but adults are more resistant to it.6
These viruses are commonly acquired through ingestion of contaminated food or water. In some cases, infected utensils, towels or other items can spread the disease.7
Telltale Symptoms of a Stomach Virus
When a virus begins to affect your digestive system, you may develop various symptoms, such as:8
Abdominal cramps and pain
Muscle aches or headache
Depending on the type of virus that enters your stomach, the symptoms may manifest in one to three days with varying intensities, ranging from mild to severe. If you experience these symptoms right away, visit a doctor first for a proper diagnosis. You may confuse your condition with other diseases, such as bacterial diarrhea caused by salmonella or E. coli, which will require a different treatment.9
The Best Foods to Eat While Managing a Stomach Virus
While a stomach virus may take away your appetite, you will still need to eat and drink healthy food to help lower the chances of worsening symptoms. But don’t just consume any food you can get your hands on. You will need to follow a strict procedure to help manage your condition:10
1. Stop eating for a few hours: Allow your stomach to settle so you can begin to prepare yourself consuming food and water again.
2. Slowly begin drinking fluids: Once you feel better, drink small sips of water over the course of a few hours. Not drinking enough fluids can lead to dehydration, which can make you feel worse in the long run. However, don’t drink too much water at once, as it can exacerbate nausea and vomiting.
3. Note your urination: Ideally, your urine should be light and clear. This signifies that you are properly hydrated. Dark-colored urine means that you’re lacking fluids. Continue drinking water until you achieve the ideal color.
Bananas are generally recommended during a bout of stomach flu because the fiber can help increase the bulk in stool, but apples are also a viable alternative.11 As your health begins to improve, other healthy foods that you can slowly ease yourself into other foods such as eggs, fresh fruits (in moderation) and vegetables.12
If your stomach can tolerate it, drinking ginger tea may help with your symptoms. It contains anti-inflammatory compounds that may help ease nausea, vomiting and pain in your stomach. To make the tea:
1. Place one fresh ginger root in 1 cup of water.
2. Boil the water for five minutes then steep for 10 minutes.
3. Strain the tea after boiling, then drink. Repeat for two to three times a day.
Foods to Avoid When You Have a Stomach Virus
While certain foods can help you replenish your health while you recover, there are foods you should be avoiding as well. In particular, you should stay away from processed foods and drinks, including fruit juices, as well as fried foods. These can irritate your digestive system further. The table below expounds more on which foods and beverages you avoid:14,15
Dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt
Caffeinated drinks such as coffee
Carbonated and/or sugary drinks
Canned or packaged soups
Fried foods like French fries
Foods that have spices
How to Get Rid of a Stomach Virus: Manage Your Symptoms Properly
As with other viral infections, there is no definite and immediate cure for the stomach flu. Instead, your body will have to fight off the disease slowly. The appropriate course of action is to manage your symptoms by making sure you eat healthy foods and drink plenty of fluids, which will help lower your risk of developing complications, such as dehydration.16 Remember to get lots of rest and high-quality sleep, too, as this will help your body fight off the virus.
Prevent the Stomach Flu From Happening in the First Place
Stomach flu is one of the most common causes of hospitalization in America. If not treated right away, it may even be fatal. Since there is no cure for this condition, prevention is more appropriate to help lower the risk of spreading disease among family members. Here are some effective tips that you should regularly follow:17,18
• Wash hands with warm water and triclosan-free soap before preparing food
• Wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly before consumption
• Clean the area where food is prepared, such as the kitchen countertop, regularly
• Avoid sharing utensils and use separate towels in the bathroom