The stomach flu, tummy bug, or gastroenteritis...what ever you call the sickness, it can spread like wildfire and put a person out of commission for days or weeks. Confusion surrounds the name "stomach flu" because the bug can be bacterial or viral and is not influenza, said Margaret Aubin, nurse practitioner at The Clinic Urgent Care Center.
The illness can take a day or weeks to clear out of your system and doctors can really only treat the symptoms.
"They are weak, profoundly weak. Their mouths are very, very dry. They haven't been able to activities...haven't been able to get up and go to work," explained Aubin about the typical symptoms of the debilitating sickness. Gastroenteritis causes vomiting, diarrhea and dehydration.
I. V. fluids can relieve dehydration caused by severe lack of fluids in the body and anti-nausea medication can stop the trips to the bathroom. At some point the sickness just has to take its course.
"You may feel better within 24 hours or it may take three or four days," said Aubin.
The airborne virus, norovirus, is the most common among adults and is extremely contagious.
"It can be highly contagious. The whole family can come down with it," warned Aubin.
According to the Mayo Clinic, once infected a person is contagious the minute he or she starts to feel ill and, after symptoms disappear, for a couple days. Sometimes up to two weeks later people are still carrying the bug.
"Generally we should do this all the time: wash our hands. Don't contact your mouth, your eyes, your nose," said Aubin.
Researchers have hope for a vaccine in the near future. A 2008 study by researchers at the University of North Carolina and the CDC suggests a vaccine for the norovirus is possible to prevent future outbreaks. More research will need to e completed before a vaccine can hit the market.
Aubin also said the time of year plays a role in the spread of the stomach bug. Winter months, especially around the holidays, she sees a spike in cases. Close quarters indoors and family gatherings, she said, compound the problem. Summer heat can also cause food to spoil faster and spark more food poisoning cases.