If you have been hearing about the “stomach flu” or “stomach bug” sweeping through your school, office or other local spot, you are not alone. The months of November through April are the most common for Gastroenteritis, an infection of the stomach or intestines caused by bacteria or a virus.

Stomach bug symptoms can include some or all of the following:

  • Stomach cramps
  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Low-grade fever
  • Headache

The symptoms of Gastroenteritis can be intense but will generally clear up in a few days. If symptoms last longer or get worse, you should visit an urgent care or your family doctor. There are over-the-counter medications that can help with some of the symptoms and antibiotics are available if the infection is caused bacteria.

Viruses, such as Norovirus or Rotavirus, are the most common causes of Gastroenteritis. They can also be caused by bacteria such as E. coli or Salmonella. Stomach bugs tend to be highly contagious and spread quickly and easily.

Treating Stomach Bugs

“The best treatment is rest and plenty of water to help prevent dehydration,” says Richard Samuel, MD, an urgent care physician with Centra Care Adventist HealthCare Urgent Care. He also recommends:

  • Eat bland foods when trying to settle an upset tummy. The BRAT diet is best- Bananas, Rice, Applesauce and Toast.
  • Stay home if you are experiencing any symptoms.
  • Try a yogurt with probiotics. This will restore some of the good bacteria in your intestine and help you return to normal digestion.

“Watch for signs of dehydration and call your doctor if you experience dry mouth, weakness, decreased urination, dizziness and headache,” says Dr. Samuel. You should also call your doctor if you have blood in your urine or feces, vomiting that lasts for more than two days and a fever over 100.4 degrees for an infant and 102.2 degrees in adults.

How to Stop the Spread

Frequent handwashing is the very best way to prevent the spread of the stomach bugs and any other contagious illnesses. It is also a good idea to regularly clean (with bleach wipes) common home and work surfaces like doorknobs, desks and light switches and avoiding contact with an infected person. Also, notes Dr. Samuel, if you have a stomach bug, stay home and away from others until you have not had symptoms for 24-hours.

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention