There’s no cure for the common cold and that adage also extends to the flu. Unfortunately, the only thing you can do if you have a stomach virus is to wait it out.
But how long does a stomach virus last and how long will you have to wait? You probably live a very busy life, so knowing how long the virus may last would help you re-schedule your activities.
In this article, you will find out how long it could take you to recover in full. You will also find out how long you’re contagious and what you should do to speed up recovery. There may be no cure for the virus, but there’s no reason why you can’t help your immune system fight it.
Stomach Virus Overview
What exactly is a stomach virus? A stomach virus is sometimes called the stomach flu or viral gastroenteritis, which is its official medical name. Contrary to popular belief because of the name, it isn’t actually a stomach bug. A stomach virus or stomach flu is an infection in the intestines.
You may get a stomach virus from the usual viral suspects like:
Bacterial infections like salmonella and E. coli may give you similar symptoms to a stomach virus. But ironically, the actual flu (or influenza) virus doesn’t have anything to do with the stomach flu.
Most people have gotten a stomach virus at some point in their lives. Symptoms range from mild to severe and may include the following:
- mild fever (sometimes)
- loss of appetite
- stomach cramps
Vomiting caused by a stomach virus may subside in a day or two. However, diarrhea could go on for days after the vomiting has stopped. If a child contracts a stomach virus, they usually stop vomiting within 24 hours of the first symptoms appearing. But as in adults, diarrhea may continue to linger for a day or two afterward.
How Long Are You Contagious?
If you have a stomach virus, it is best to quarantine yourself as soon as symptoms appear because it is very contagious. Actual contagion time may vary depending on which virus you have.
For example, norovirus is one of the more common viruses that can cause the stomach flu. If you have this particular virus, you’re contagious as soon as the first symptoms appear and will remain contagious for several days after the symptoms go away.
On the other hand, rotavirus becomes contagious1 to 3 days before the symptoms even make an appearance. Unfortunately, during this incubation period, you may not know that you are sick and may inadvertently infect others. Furthermore, this common childhood virus is contagious up to 2 weeks after recovering from symptoms.
How Long Does a Stomach Virus Last?
Stomach viruses generally have an incubation period of 1-3 days. During this time, you probably won’t have any symptoms. When the symptoms appear, however, they generally last between no longer than a day or two.
Keep in mind that the symptoms can linger for as long as 10 days. This may be especially true for people with weakened immune systems like the elderly.
What Is the Difference Between Food Poisoning, Seasonal Flu, and Stomach Flu?
Unlike a virus, food poisoning happens almost immediately after eating something contaminated. Although food poisoning has similar symptoms to a stomach virus, it isn’t contagious.
In addition, stomach viruses and seasonal flu hit the body differently. Stomach viruses typically have symptoms that center around the gastrointestinal system. On the other hand, seasonal flu has cold-like symptoms that affect the entire body and the respiratory system.
What Can You Do?
For most people with healthy immune systems, getting a stomach virus isn’t serious. However, it can be dangerous for vulnerable groups like the elderly, infants, toddlers, and children. Because stomach viruses can lead to dehydration, it is important to get them treated as soon as possible.
Like seasonal flu, one of the best ways to make a full and speedy recovery is hydration and rest. If you can’t drink fluids, though, it’s still important to avoid dehydration. Try the following options instead:
- ice chips
- small sips of liquid
Once you can tolerate it, incorporate more liquids like:
- energy drinks (sugar-free)
- clear broth
In addition, you should avoid eating too much too soon even if you feel hungry. And if you’re still vomiting, you shouldn’t eat at all.
As soon as you have stopped vomiting and can tolerate food again, try incorporating a bland diet. A BRAT diet is a good choice. This low-fiber, starchy diet includes foods like:
These foods help your body reduce diarrhea and firm up the stools. Remember to choose low-fiber bread like dry white bread and sugar-free applesauce. You can slowly add other easily digestible foods as you start to feel better. Go for plain crackers and plain baked potatoes.
No matter how much you’re tempted, you need to avoid foods that can further irritate your stomach. These foods may also trigger further bouts of diarrhea and nausea. This includes:
- dairy products
- foods high in sugar
- greasy or fatty foods
- high-fiber foods
- caffeinated drinks
- spicy foods
- foods that are hard to digest like beef
In general, it may be best to stop your regular diet until the symptoms subside completely. Instead, focus on rest and hydration. With enough time, you’ll be back to your regular diet without setbacks.
How long does a stomach virus last? Symptoms can last anywhere between 1 and 10 days. There’s no specific medical treatment for a stomach virus. However, most healthy adults can recover on their own.
The most important things to focus on if you have a stomach virus are home care and recovery. Make sure to get adequate rest and hydration. If you can’t keep liquids down, sucking on ice chips may be an option until your stomach settles.
In addition, don’t be quick to jump back into your regular diet. It could trigger more nausea and diarrhea. Instead, go for bland, easy-to-digest foods.
Lastly, monitor anyone with a compromised immune system closely. A stomach virus can be deadly for infants, young children, and the elderly. Watch for signs of dehydration, and don’t be hesitant to call your doctor if the symptoms seem to get worse.