A stomach virus is a very common — and contagious — condition that can hit quickly and leave you feeling miserable. Anyone can get a stomach virus, and most people improve within a few days. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are up to 21 million cases of the stomach virus (norovirus) in the United States each year. But what are the symptoms of a stomach virus, and how can they be avoided?
Causes of Stomach Viruses
A stomach virus, like the stomach flu (gastroenteritis), is an infection that can cause inflammation of your stomach and digestive tract. The National Institutes of Health explains that stomach viruses can be caused by norovirus, rotavirus, or adenovirus.
Stomach viruses are contagious, which means they can spread to other people by someone who is sick or by eating contaminated food. The best way to prevent a stomach virus is to wash your hands regularly, especially before eating and after using the bathroom.
Symptoms of a Stomach Virus
The signs and symptoms of a stomach virus may differ based on the cause. A person typically develops symptoms 12 to 48 hours after being exposed to the virus. Most stomach viruses last about two to five days before they resolve.
The primary symptoms of a stomach virus are:
- Diarrhea (nonbloody)
- Stomach cramps
- Mild fever (about 100°F)
- Muscle aches
Treating Your Stomach Virus
There's no cure for a stomach virus, and in most cases symptoms of a stomach virus resolve with home care measures within a few days. At-home treatment should focus on decreasing symptoms and avoiding dehydration. If you get a stomach virus, limit your intake of solid food, and drink clear liquids like water, juices, sports drinks, and chicken broth. Adults can use over-the-counter antidiarrheal medications.
When you're feeling better, try eating bland foods like gelatin, crackers, bananas, or rice. As your digestive system begins to return to normal, you can gradually eat small quantities of your regular foods.
Stomach Viruses vs. Influenza
Often, people confuse symptoms of a stomach virus for influenza (the flu). While they have some similar symptoms, they're not related to one another.
A stomach virus causes your stomach and intestines to become inflamed and irritated. Causes of a gastrointestinal illness include viruses, bacteria, and parasites. On the other hand, influenza affects the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs, and includes symptoms like fatigue, fever, congestion, and body aches. Seasonal flu is mainly caused by the influenza viruses A and B, says the CDC.
In most cases, a stomach virus will go away on its own with home care measures. See your doctor if your vomiting and diarrhea persist beyond a few days, or if you notice signs of dehydration.