During my middle school years, my family and I would often go out to do grocery shopping. We would buy things like meats, fish and rice, but something we would do for special occasions is prepare a fruit platter. Unbeknownst to me, fruit platters can actually contain the virus that causes the stomach flu, and thus began my week long journey of horror. Right after the Fourth of July, I felt agonizing pain in my stomach, and that is an understatement. I had a throbbing headache and felt horrible, and my parents took me to see the doctor. It turns out that I contracted (you guessed it) viral gastroenteritis, commonly known as the stomach flu. Luckily, my immune system was developed enough to fight off the infection naturally. Sadly, this is not true for most infants, older adults and other people with compromised immune systems, which can lead to fatal complications. What are some ways to recognize this infection? If someone has it, how do you know if it is serious enough to go to the hospital?
The stomach flu does not present any symptoms for one to three days. However, once these symptoms do appear, they can be extremely debilitating and cause various digestive issues. These digestive issues and other various symptoms include nonbloody diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, headache, weakness and fever. One of the severe complications of the virus is a direct result of diarrhea and vomiting—dehydration. Some of the signs of dehydration include a dry mouth, excessive thirst and headache. In most cases, you can drink enough fluids to counteract the water lost. However, in severe cases, hospitalization is necessary to continuously replace the large volume of fluids lost.
Unfortunately, there is no way to cure or treat the stomach flu. Since it is viral, antibiotics are completely ineffective, and there are no other effective treatments. Therefore, one of the best ways to stay safe from the virus is simply by preventing yourself from ever having it in the first place. One of the easiest prevention methods is to get vaccinated. Fortunately, there is a vaccine for gastroenteritis available in the United States, which can easily prevent an illness if given within the first year of life. This vaccine can be given later in life, however, it is most effective if given early on in life. Another way to help prevent the virus is by making it a habit to wash your hands throughout the day. This has also been proven to mitigate other infections such as the flu or the common cold, so it is recommended to wash your hands frequently.
The last prevention method is to simply avoiding people that are infected to decrease the chances that the virus gets spread to you. However, this also works the other way around. If you suspect that you have the stomach flu or other infection, then stay out of class and work to drink fluids and get some rest. This can not only expedite the healing process for you but can also prevent many others from getting sick.
The stomach flu can be a very grueling and miserable experience that has you bedridden for over a week, making you miss important deadlines and days of class. By knowing and applying the effective methods that can help prevent contracting it in the first place, you can save yourself a lot of pain and stress in the long run. Take it from me, I would have much rather washed my hands a few times than have ever gone through that.
(Note: These articles are good-faith attempts to be helpful to the Brandeis community and are by no means to be taken as universal. This article does not replace the advice of a medical professional. This article is not written on behalf of the Brandeis Emergency Medical Corps (BEMCo) and is not affiliated with BEMCo in any manner.)