How long does the stomach flu last?
Stomach flu is the colloquial term for gastrointestinal inflammation (gastroenteritis) caused by pathogens. Stomach flu is usually harmless, but causes unpleasant symptoms such as vomiting. In rare cases, a gastrointestinal tract may become more complicated. Here you will learn the most important thing about Stomach flu.
In the medical field, a stomach flu is also commonly referred to as gastroenteritis (inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract). Such gastrointestinal inflammation must not be caused solely by infection with pathogens such as viruses or bacteria, but may also be the result of cancer treatment.
The colloquial expression “stomach flu” is somewhat misleading because infectious gastroenteritis is caused by other pathogens than the classical flu (influenza) and there is no connection between these diseases.
Ultimately, you can get a gastrointestinal flu at any age. However, babies and infants are particularly affected. In the first three years of life, children suffer an average of one to two times per year on a gastrointestinal infection. Three quarters of all children who are between six and 24 months old. The likelihood of a stomach flu is also increasing in the elderly.
What happens in the stomach flu?
Stomach flu is the result of an infection with certain pathogens, which attack the mucous membrane in the gastrointestinal tract.
These germs are mostly viruses or bacteria and first enter the stomach via the mouth and then migrate through the intestine, where they multiply before they are eliminated with the feces again. These germs mostly cause nausea and vomiting. They are later replaced by diarrhea.
Stomach flu contagion by contact with feces and vomit
The route in a gastrointestinal infection is usually fecal and oral. This means that the pathogens from the feces or vomit of any person who is suffering from stomach flu can get into another’s mouth on some way.
This can happen, for example, if the patient does not wash his hands sufficiently after he was on the toilet. From the hands, the pathogens can then find their way into food or objects and thus be absorbed by a still healthy person. This route is also known as contact or lubrication infection.
Certain pathogens of a stomach flu , so-called noroviruses, can additionally spread aerogeneously and reach from human to human by air and thus transmit a stomach flu.
This explains, among other things, the enormous risk of contagion at noroviruses. The viruses hover in tiny droplets, which the patient emits to the ambient air, for example, when talking, coughing or sneezing. They can be inhaled by other people. This transmission path is also referred to as infection.
Some pathogens of a stomach flu, such as EHEC (enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli) or salmonella can also be transmitted from animals to humans. The infection occurs mainly through contaminated animal products such as raw eggs (for example in the form of tiramisu or mayonnaise) or milk. Often an inadequate cooling of the food contributes to the infection with pathogens of the stomach flu.
What is the risk of infection with stomach flu?
How contagious a stomach flu is depends primarily on the causative agent. The risk of infection increases, for example, if the germs are relatively robust and can survive outside the human body for a long time.
For other pathogens, contact with the smallest amounts is enough to trigger a stomach flu because they grow very quickly and strongly (like noroviruses). If, on the other hand, the pathogens are more sensitive or can cause a disease only in large numbers, the risk of infection is lower.
In general, gastrointestinal infections have a high potential for contagion, which is why several members of the family often suffer from it, or there are more frequent outbreaks in community facilities.
The more viruses the patient leaves, the more contagious it is. Therefore, the risk of “gastrointestinal infection” is especially high as long as the typical diarrhea is present.
Stomach flu duration
If there is a sudden onset of nausea and severe diarrhea, it is usually a gastrointestinal flu. The duration, intensity and contagiousness of this disease can be different depending on which pathogen is involved.
Stomach flu incubation period
The incubation period describes the duration between the infection with a disease and the occurrence of the first symptoms. In a stomach flu, the incubation period is usually very short (few hours). In some pathogens, however, it can also be days or weeks. As a rule, the stomach flu incubation period is between one and seven days, but for each pathogen another period is typical:
- Norovirus and rotavirus: Ten to 50 hours
- Salmonella: Five to 72 hours (depending on the amount of salmonella taken)
- EHEC: Usually three to four days
- Campylobacter: Two to five days
- Shigella: One to four days
- Entamoeba histolytica (amoeba): One to four weeks
- Food poisoning: One to six hours (Staphylococcus aureus), eight to 16 hours (Clostridium perfringens)
Stomach flu duration symptoms
The typical symptom of stomach flu is the diarrhea. Vomiting usually starts before the diarrhea and goes on one to two days. On the other hand, diarrhea usually lasts longer between two and ten days. A diarrhea lasting more than three weeks is called chronic diarrhea. It can occur, for example, in patients with an immune deficiency.
What are the symptoms of stomach flu?
A gastrointestinal infection usually starts suddenly. The body tries to get rid of the pathogens or the toxins as quickly as possible by.
Most common symptoms are at the following:
- Watery, partly nasty smelling stools
- Lack of appetite
Depending on the nature of the pathogen, the following symptoms may occur:
- Abdominal pain, abdominal cramps
- Mucus or blood in the stool
- Body aches
- Skin rash
Stomach flu causes and risk factors
The term “stomach flu” generally refers to a disease pattern in which an infection with a pathogen causes typical symptoms in the gastrointestinal tract. Depending on the pathogen, incubation time, intensity and duration of the disease vary. Incubation time is the period from the infection to the onset of the first symptoms.
In most cases, viruses are located behind a stomach flu, especially noroviruses and rootaviruses, more rarely other viruses such as astro- or sapoviruses. In addition, there are also a number of bacteria as well as some parasites, which can cause gastrointestinal infection.
Rotaviruses are often responsible for a stomach flu in children. Up to 70 percent of infectious diarrheal diseases in small children are caused by rotaviruses. In developing countries, they are also responsible for high child mortality.
In the course of the first years of life, more and more antibodies are formed by frequent contact with rotaviruses, which protect them against later infections or lead them to be weaker. Therefore, rotaviruses in the adult age rarely cause a gastrointestinal infection than in children.
Noroviruses are even more contagious than rotaviruses. In addition, they are available in countless variations so that the immune system usually can not counteract an infection with an effective antibody. Noroviruses are, among other things, the main responsible pathogens for stomach flu.
Since Noroviruses are also transmitted via the airway as droplet infection, whole families often suffer from the gastrointestinal flu. In hospitals and nursing homes, affected patients are immediately isolated, doctors and nurses wear protective clothing to prevent the disease from spreading.
Among the most famous bacteria that can cause stomach flu are the salmonella.
Although salmonellosis can also be transmitted by sick persons, animal products such as raw eggs or insufficiently heated meat are usually the source of infection. Care should be taken when handling poultry products.
Also, bacteria of the genus Campylobacter can cause a stomach flu. In most cases, Campylobacter jejuni, sometimes Campylobacter coli. These pathogens are transmitted by contact with animals and the consumption of contaminated food (poultry, raw milk). Campylobacter enteritis is still the most common food-borne cause of stomach flu before salmonellosis. Symptoms occur about two to five days after infection.
Some bacteria indirectly damage the mucous membranes of the gastrointestinal tract by producing special poisons (toxins). Such toxin generators include, for example, the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus, Bacillus cereus and Clostridium perfringens. These pathogens can be found in large numbers in spoiled food and, after a few hours, cause symptoms of severe stomach flu.
Yersinia and cholera bacteria
Yersinia bacteria are rare in Western Europe and only account for about one percent of all diarrheal diseases. The cholera caused by Vibrio cholerae is also a rarity in Western countries, but there are more than six million cases every year.
Although only 15 per cent of the infected symptoms are shown, cholera can be very dangerous in the case of severe courses and poor medical care.
In addition to viruses and bacteria, there are also certain parasites that can cause stomach flu. For example, the amoebic species Entamoeba histolytica is the cause of the amoebic rupture. This disease occurs mainly in tropical and subtropical areas. A common parasitic pathogen, which mainly causes diarrhea, is the single-cell Giardia lamblia.
How stomach flu is diagnosed?
The right contact for a stomach flu is your family doctor. A typical stomach flu is generally uncomplicated and can be quickly recognized by the doctor.
In addition, the history of the patient’s medical history (anamnesis) is important in order to recognize a possibly more complicated course of the stomach flu early. Your doctor may ask questions as:
- Do you have diarrhea besides vomiting?
- How long your complaints have already existed?
- Do you suspect a connection with a particular dish?
- Have you eaten raw milk, uncooked pork or products with raw eggs?
- Are other people in the vicinity (workplace, school, family) affected by stomach flu?
- Do you have fever?
- Did you notice blood in the stool?
- Have you been abroad in the last days or weeks?
- Do you take any medication or have you recently taken any antibiotics?
In addition, the doctor asks the patient about other, already known diseases. In the case of stomach flu in children, the question of a recent food change makes sense.
The physical examination is then carried out: The physician is particularly concerned with signs which indicate a lack of fluid (dehydration), such as dry mucous membranes, sunken eyes or standing skin folds. Particularly in small children and infants, it is very important to notice and treat a lack of fluid in time.
How is stomach flu treated?
Drink a lot fluid
What to do with stomach flu? This question arises after the diagnosis has been made. The answer to this is usually very simple: drink as much as possible! The first priority is to compensate for the loss of fluid caused by vomiting and diarrhea.
Eat light food
Electrolyte powders are usually not necessary when the persons are able to consume small amounts of food. In the acute phase of a gastrointestinal flu, it is often difficult to keep anything at all without vomiting, but the body still needs a little food.
Oral Rehydration Solutions (ORL)
Doctors also use oral rehydration solutions (ORLs), a special dextrose-salt mixture with an ideally matched sugar and electrolyte content. It is usually taken over orally. If there is already a lack of fluid, similar preparations can also be administered directly via a venous approach as an infusion.
Medical therapy for stomach flu
In an uncomplicated stomach flu usually no medicines are used, especially since there are no specific drugs against the viral pathogens. Under certain circumstances, however, a drug therapy is useful. For example, antibiotics can reduce the duration of the disease in the case of a stomach flu which has been detected bacterially. Basically, however, antibiotics are very restrained in a gastrointestinal tract and are only used in the following cases:
In premature infants
In the first third of pregnancy
In people with known immune deficiency
In case of serious illness
When bloody diarrhea occurs
In the detection of pathogens such as Salmonella typhi, Vibrio cholerae, Amoeba and Clostridium difficile
In the case of EHEC infections, the use of antibiotics can be dangerous, since the enterohemorrhagic E. coli are destroyed in large numbers, but their decay products can possibly trigger a hemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS). Therefore, antibiotics should only be used with caution in EHEC infections.
In addition to antibiotics, there are other medicines to help alleviate the symptoms of stomach flu. These include antiemetics, which help to prevent nausea, and so-called motility inhibitors (for example, loperamide), which slow down the intestinal movement and thus diarrhea. The active substance racecadotril can also be used against severe diarrhea.
The spasmolytic butylscopolamine acts against cramp-like abdominal pain. However, all these drugs are not always meaningful, which is why the treating physician has to decide individually about their use.
How to prevent stomach flu?
Give importance to hygiene
A stomach flu can only be prevented by avoiding closer contact with patients and giving importance to hygiene. This includes above all thorough and regular hand washing. Especially the feces and vomit of people with stomach flu are highly infectious.
Therefore, the toilet is the place where contagion is particularly when used by patients. The toilet should be cleaned and disinfected before each use. After every visit to the toilet, wash your hands with soap for two to three minutes. This can significantly reduce the risk of infection for a stomach flu.
However, close physical contact with patients should be avoided as much as possible. In addition, linen and clothing should be washed.
Stay at home
Anyone who already shows signs of stomach flu hould never go to school or work. This is the only way to prevent further spread of the disease, especially when highly contagious viruses are responsible for the stomach flu.