Common Causes of the Stomach Flu

Kenneth Knowles, MD
Medically reviewed by Kenneth Knowles, MDMarch 28th, 2021
woman sick on couch

If you’re experiencing diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal cramping, there’s a good chance that you have the stomach flu. Viral gastroenteritis (commonly referred to as the “stomach flu” or the “24-hour flu”) can cause all of these symptoms, and in some cases may also lead to a low-grade fever, headaches, and body aches.

You’re probably wondering exactly what it is that’s causing you to feel this way. The stomach flu is an intestinal infection that’s generally caused by a virus such as:

  • Norovirus - Noroviruses, which affect adults and children, are the world’s leading cause of foodborne illness. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), noroviruses cause about 19 to 21 million cases of diarrhea and vomiting illnesses in the United States each year.
  • Rotavirus - Rotavirus is the world’s leading cause of viral gastroenteritis among children, who typically develop the illness after touching their mouths with their fingers or another contaminated object. While adults generally don’t experience symptoms, they can still spread rotavirus.

Although it’s much more common for the stomach flu to be caused by a virus, in some instances, it can also be caused by bacteria.

How to Avoid Spreading the Stomach Flu

Now that you understand what can cause the stomach flu, your next concern will probably be finding out what you can do to avoid spreading the illness to your loved ones. In most cases, someone will develop the stomach flu after either coming into contact with an infected person, ingesting food or water that’s been contaminated, or touching his or her mouth after touching a contaminated surface. With that in mind, here are some steps you can take to minimize your chances of infecting your friends and family:

  • Avoid close contact with others
  • Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently, especially after using the bathroom and before preparing or eating food
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizers, although soap and water is still better for some causes of diarrhea such as C. diff.
  • Routinely disinfect hard surfaces, such as doorknobs, countertops, and faucets
  • Throw out any food that could potentially be contaminated
  • Avoid sharing food and beverages with others
  • Avoid sharing personal items, such as dishes, utensils, and towels
  • Immediately remove and wash any soiled clothes and linens using hot water and the longest possible wash cycle

When to Seek Treatment for the Stomach Flu

As was mentioned above, the stomach flu is commonly referred to as the “24-hour flu.” This is because stomach flu symptoms typically last only one to two days. In some cases, however, symptoms may last as long as 10 days and/or be especially severe. Adults should seek professional treatment if they:

  • Have a fever that’s above 104 F
  • Can’t keep liquids down for at least 24 hours
  • Are vomiting blood
  • Continue vomiting for more than two days
  • Are experiencing blood in their bowel movements
  • Are experiencing signs of dehydration (which may include excessive thirst, dry mouth, a lack of urine, urine that’s deep yellow in color, dizziness, lightheadedness, and severe weakness)

Although there’s no cure for the stomach flu, a trained provider will be able to recommend a course of treatment in order to relieve your symptoms—which may include prescribing certain medications—and treat any resulting dehydration.

In-Home Treatment for the Stomach Flu

If you need treatment for the stomach flu but don’t feel up to leaving the house, you can rely on DispatchHealth for at-home care. Not only do our in-home services spare our patients the time and hassle of having to leave the house for treatment, but they also minimize the risk of spreading the stomach flu to others outside the home (as well as the risk of contracting another illness at a provider’s office).

If you think that our mobile services cost more than a trip to a brick-and-mortar office, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to know that we’re in-network with most insurance carriers, including Medicare and Medicaid, and patients typically pay around $5-$50 after insurance. This is about the same as you could expect to pay at an urgent care clinic, and just a fraction of what an ER visit would cost. Plus, we even offer an affordable flat rate for self-pay patients.

Request a visit from DispatchHealth today by calling us, downloading our mobile app, or visiting our website. Once we’ve collected some information about your condition, we’ll arrange a visit and arrive at your home within just a few hours.


DispatchHealth relies only on authoritative sources, including medical associations, research institutions, and peer-reviewed medical studies.

Sources referenced in this article:

The DispatchHealth blog provides tips, tricks and advice for improving lives through convenient, comfortable healthcare.

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