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What is the stomach flu?

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The stomach flu is not a single disease. It's just a nickname for viral gastroenteritis, which is caused by a number of nasty viruses, such as noroviruses, rotaviruses, and adenoviruses.

These viruses target the digestive tract and cause inflammation of the stomach and intestines. The most awful symptoms -- diarrhea, vomiting, and cramps -- are actually your body's defense mechanisms. Your body is trying to drive the virus out.

Stomach flu can happen any time of the year, but it's most common in the fall and winter in the U.S. Although unpleasant, stomach flu is rarely serious. Symptoms usually last for 1 to 3 days and sometimes longer. The greatest risk -- especially in babies and older people -- comes from dehydration. Untreated, dehydration can be dangerous.

Despite the name, stomach flu has nothing to do with the real flu, influenza. Influenza causes body ache and fever. It almost never causes diarrhea or vomiting in adults. Rarely, it can trigger vomiting in children.

From: Diarrhea and the Stomach Flu WebMD Medical Reference

SOURCES:

American Academy of Family Physicians Family Doctor: "Vomiting and Diarrhea in Children," "BRAT Diet."

American College of Gastroenterology: "Diarrheal Diseases."

CDC: "Viral Gastroenteritis," "Myths about Seasonal Influenza and Influenza Vaccines," "Updated Norovirus Outbreak Management and Disease Prevention Guidelines."

The Cochrane Library: "Hand washing for preventing diarrhea."

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Viral Gastroenteritis," "Diarrhea."

National Library of Medicine Medline Plus: "Diarrhea."

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: "What Should You Eat When You Have Diarrhea?"

Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian on August 7, 2019

SOURCES:

American Academy of Family Physicians Family Doctor: "Vomiting and Diarrhea in Children," "BRAT Diet."

American College of Gastroenterology: "Diarrheal Diseases."

CDC: "Viral Gastroenteritis," "Myths about Seasonal Influenza and Influenza Vaccines," "Updated Norovirus Outbreak Management and Disease Prevention Guidelines."

The Cochrane Library: "Hand washing for preventing diarrhea."

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Viral Gastroenteritis," "Diarrhea."

National Library of Medicine Medline Plus: "Diarrhea."

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: "What Should You Eat When You Have Diarrhea?"

Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian on August 7, 2019

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