Dr. Richard Reidy: What you should know about the stomach flu

Health and Fitness, Topics, What You Should Know
Sick woman holding stomach

With the worst flu epidemic in recent memory dominating the news, it might be easy to overlook another very common winter illness afflicting many-viral gastroenteritis.

Some might refer to it as the "stomach flu" or a "stomach bug," but the symptoms of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and low-grade fever are the telltale signs of viral gastroenteritis.

"The symptoms mirror those of a common upset stomach and might be easily overlooked," said Dr. Richard Reidy, an emergency medicine physician at McLaren Macomb. "It doesn't discriminate-everyone is susceptible and there isn't any sort of vaccination to protect against norovirus-a common cause. It might be very easy for the patient to confuse those common symptoms with something more serious and longer lasting."

The viruses can be acquired through the consumption of contaminated food and water or contact with another infected person. The common types are rotavirus and norovirus. Rotavirus is the world's most common cause of diarrhea in infants and young children. A pediatric vaccine is available for this virus but must be started before 15 weeks of age. Parents should discuss this vaccine with their pediatrician.

Norovirus is highly contagious and one of the most common cause of serious gastroenteritis and foodborne illness in the United States. Dr. Reidy added that while symptoms may not manifest for several hours after exposure, one of the defining symptoms of gastroenteritis is its very sudden on-set of nausea and vomiting.

"You may wake up and feel fine all morning," he said, "but by early afternoon, you could start experiencing each of these symptoms in full. The on-set is that quick. Make an appointment with your family physician if you can, but if they're unavailable and the symptoms are particularly debilitating, go to your nearest emergency department."

Signs that adults should see their physician for stomach distress:
"¢ Not able to keep liquids down for 24 hours
"¢ Increasing abdominal pain
"¢ Vomiting for two days
"¢ Dehydration
"¢ Fever greater than 104

Signs in children:
"¢ Fever greater than 102
"¢ Acting lethargic or very irritable
"¢ In discomfort or pain
"¢ Dehydration

Make an appointment with a McLaren Macomb physician at mclaren.org/macombappointments.