We have seen a LOT of students with a viral gastroenteritis (“stomach flu”) here at Student Health over the last couple of weeks. Here’s what you should look out for and/or do if you think you’ve been hit with it.
Watery diarrhea is the main symptom: anywhere from 2 or 3 loose stools per day up to living on the toilet all day. Other symptoms include:
- Nausea and vomiting (some people will only have this without the diarrhea)
- Stomach cramps, pain, or tenderness
- Fever or chills
- Appetite loss
The most common cause is an infection by a virus that is spread by coming into contact with an infected person or by touching an object that has the virus on it. Sometimes people are worried that they may have “food poisoning.” While it is certainly possible to get a similar illness from eating bad food, a viral infection is more common and for the most part, you treat them the same way.
To avoid catching the stomach virus, be sure to wash your hands a lot to prevent the spread of germs; don’t share cups/utensils/toothbrushes, etc.; and be sure you’re cooking and storing food properly.
Even though this is sometimes called a “24-hour stomach bug,” symptoms usually last 2 to 5 days and you may feel weak and fatigued for up to a week.
The mainstay of treatment is rest and replacing the fluids you are losing through vomiting and diarrhea. Suck ice chips or drink small amounts of clear fluids often. Replace lost fluids and electrolytes with products such as non-caffeinated beverages (Sprite, Ginger Ale, GatorAde, PowerAde). Stay away from orange juice, that will just cause irritation. Once you feel like you can keep food down, stick with bland foods like rice, wheat, potatoes, bread, cereal, and lean meat like chicken. Milk and dairy products can sometimes irritate your stomach after a stomach flu, so minimize them for a day or two and try to avoid fatty or greasy foods like hamburgers and pizza for a few days.
Most of the time, the stomach flu will resolve on its own and you can manage it at home. Loperamide (Imodium AD) is available over-the-counter for diarrhea. If the nausea is severe, we can prescribe you anti-nausea medication at the student health center. Be sure to contact the student health center if:
- Symptoms last longer than 2 days
- You see blood or mucus in your stool
- You can’t keep fluids down
- You have signs or symptoms of dehydration: dry mouth, lightheadedness or dizziness
John A. Vaughn, MD (OSU SHS)
Revised by Tina Comston, M.Ed.