Sneezing, coughing and nausea this time of year might prompt you to diagnose yourself as having stomach flu. But it may not be flu at all. Sam Baker talked about this in our KERA Health Checkup with Dr. Melissa Gerdes of Methodist Mansfield Medical Center.
Dr. Gerdes: Stomach flu is a set of symptoms, basically, and it’s nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps. You can have fever, and aches and pains, as well. Gastroenteritis is the technical, medical term.
Sam: And this is inflammation of the stomach lining?
Dr. Gerdes: It is, and usually caused by viruses. Bacteria or parasites can cause it, as well.
Sam: How do you come in contact with these?
Dr. Gerdes: From other people, usually. Contaminated food, contaminated door handles – that sort of thing. And then the virus or bacteria gets inside your system and causes the inflammation.
Sam: I know with flu there’s a particular flu season. Is there any particular season for stomach flu or gastroenteritis?
Dr. Gerdes: There really isn’t a particular season. There are so many viruses and pathogens that can cause gastroenteritis that you can really get it anytime of the year.
Sam: What’s likely to happen once you contract it?
Dr. Gerdes: Well, 80 to 90 percent of gastroenteritis cases are viruses. We don’t have cures for viruses. They just kind of go on their way over time. Typically, a viral gastroenteritis will be getting better in three days. So usually we’ll have nausea, vomiting that progresses to diarrhea; plus or minus fever, and aches and chills. And generally, with rest and not eating anything too exciting like spicy foods, you’ll get better within about three or four days.
Dr. Gerdes: Fluids are important because you can get dehydrated easily if you’re vomiting or having diarrhea. And we generally recommend non-caffeine containing fluids are best because caffeine is a diuretic.
Sam: How do you treat it?
Dr. Gerdes: Rest. Not trying to do too many activities. The fluids. You can take over-the-counter medicines for symptom management.
Sam: For instance?
Dr. Gerdes: Emetrol is useful or ginger, I like, for nausea and vomiting. Actually, that’s where ginger ale comes from. There is some scientific evidence behind Mom’s recommendations for ginger ale. Then things like Kaopectate or Immodium to manage the diarrhea. Very young individuals – infants, babies – and the elderly tend to be more susceptible to severe cases or those who have underlying chronic diseases such as stomach problems, diabetes. For those severe cases, sometimes those individuals require hospitalization for intravenous fluids when they become dehydrated.
Sam: But at what point should you seek medical attention?
Dr. Gerdes: If you are unable to control the vomiting or diarrhea and are becoming dehydrated, if you have young baby or elderly individual with some chronic diseases, or if you’re not improving after that three to four day time period.
Sam: With the flu, you can take vaccines that will guard against that. Is there any kind of preventable measure you can take against stomach flu?
Dr. Gerdes: Well, the smartest thing to do is good hand washing, because that’s how you tend to transfer the virus, bacteria or parasite to yourself is through your hands. So good hand washing is important. Good general hygiene, stay in general good health. The only vaccine that’s available for stomach flu type illness is the Rotavirus vaccine that’s given to all infants right now.
Dr. Melissa Gerdes is a primary care physician with Methodist Mansfield Medical Center.
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