Stomach Flu/Gastroenteritis: What Is It & How It Affects Me?

June 1, 2023
Stomach Flu/Gastroenteritis: What Is It & How It Affects Me?

Gastroenteritis, commonly known as stomach flu, is most commonly associated with frequent diarrhoea symptoms, which can be a result of consuming virus- or bacteria-contaminated liquid or food that has been mishandled, improperly cooked, or left unrefrigerated for a prolonged period.


When an individual is diagnosed with gastroenteritis, their intestines and stomach become inflamed, resulting in abdominal pain. It is a common gastroenterology condition that can affect anyone, yet there is no effective treatment for it.


A healthy individual may recover quickly on their own without many complications. However, specific individuals, such as those with compromised immune systems, elderly, and infants, should avoid developing it. Hence, prevention is vital when it comes to gastroenteritis.


Symptoms of gastroenteritis

While it might be called stomach flu, gastroenteritis is not the same as common influenza. Influenza affects only the respiratory system, while gastroenteritis affects the stomach and intestines. In fact, it is so common that many individuals might experience gastroenteritis at some point in their lives.


Some of the common symptoms and signs include the following:


  • Non-bloody, watery diarrhoea – If you experience bloody diarrhoea, it means you might be suffering from a more severe, different gut infection


  • Low-grade fever


  • Occasional headache or muscle ache


  • Abdominal pain and cramps



Depending on the exact cause, gastroenteritis symptoms may take anywhere from eight hours to a day to surface, ranging from mild to severe. The symptoms may typically last up to two days, sometimes even up to two weeks for severe cases.


There are rare cases in which gastroenteritis leaves the individual severely dehydrated. In such cases, some signs might include:


  • Dry mouth


  • Blurred vision


  • Inability to focus or feeling foggy


  • Dizziness


  • Sunken eyes


  • Severe thirst


When to see a doctor?

You should visit a doctor as soon as you experience any of the above symptoms, as it could be a sign of something more severe.


Additionally, if you are an adult, you should see a doctor if:


  • You have been vomiting for more than 24 hours


  • You have had diarrhoea for more than 48 hours


  • You have bloody stools or vomit


  • You experience severe stomach pain


  • You have a high fever of at least 40 degrees Celsius


  • You are pregnant


  • You suffer from chronic illnesses, such as heart issues, kidney disease, or diabetes


Paediatric gastroenteritis can be deadly, especially if there is a delay in treatment. Hence, if your infant child experiences the following, you need to see a healthcare provider right away:


  • Has a high fever of at least 38.9 degrees Celsius


  • Is in a lot of pain or discomfort


  • Has bloody diarrhoea


  • Seems dehydrated no matter how much they drink – signs may include crying without tears and a dry mouth


Do note that while spitting is a common occurrence for infants, vomiting is not normal. Infants vomit for many reasons, which require immediate medical attention. Hence, call an ambulance or visit the emergency department if your infant child:


  • He has been vomiting non-stop


  • Has not had a wet diaper in six hours


  • Has been experiencing severe diarrhoea and/or bloody stools


  • Has a fontanel, also known as a sunken soft spot, at the top of their head


  • Cries without tears or has a dry mouth


  • Is unresponsive or unusually drowsy or sleepy


What causes gastroenteritis?

Most individuals typically contract stomach flu when they consume contaminated liquid or food. However, it can also be transmitted from one infected individual to another if they share food, towels, or utensils with one another. Gastroenteritis is a type of contagious viral infection that is usually caused by norovirus or rotavirus.


Norovirus is one of the most common causes of stomach flu globally and can easily sweep through communities and families, especially in confined spaces. You can contract the virus typically from contaminated liquid or food. It can also be transmitted between individuals or when an individual touches their mouth after touching a surface that has been contaminated with the virus. Rotavirus affects children severely and usually happens when they put objects contaminated with the virus into their mouths.


Other viral infections that cause gastroenteritis include adenovirus, which has recently been more common among children in Singapore. Besides viral agents, bacterial agents, such as staphylococcus aureus, Campylobacter species, Bacillus cereus, Escherichia coli, Shigella species, and Salmonella species, also cause gastroenteritis, which in this case is most commonly known as food poisoning.


Is stomach flu the same as food poisoning?

While they are usually coined under the same term, they are not the same. Stomach flu is the inflammation of the intestine and stomach not associated with food, while food poisoning is gastroenteritis caused by consuming contaminated food. Hence, if it is a viral infection, it is stomach flu. If it is a bacterial infection, it is food poisoning.


Treating gastroenteritis

There are no specific forms of treatments for gastroenteritis, whether stomach flu or food poisoning. In most cases, the condition goes away on its own. However, in cases where the symptoms persist or worsen, you may need to see a doctor who may then prescribe a course of antibiotics. However, most mild cases can easily be “treated” with the following home remedies:


  • Increasing fluid intake: Do not, in one go, drink too much. Instead, consume a cup of water hourly. Young children may consume a smaller amount every half an hour.


  • Rehydrate with electrolytes: Sports drinks or dissolvable oral rehydration solutions are ideal for replenishing any fluid and mineral loss. Avoid sugary drinks as much as possible.


  • Consume easy-to-digest food: While you may initially not be able to take in any food, as soon as you are able to, select easy-to-digest food such as bananas, toast, potatoes, and rice. They are able to help you recover energy loss without stressing your stomach. Once you feel better, you may then reintroduce your usual diet. It is best to avoid food high in fat or sugar, caffeine, and alcohol during the recovery process or at least for a week.


Preventing gastroenteritis

The ideal strategy to prevent the spreading of intestinal and stomach infections is to:


  • Get vaccinated: Gastroenteritis caused by rotavirus can easily be prevented by getting vaccinated. Children should be vaccinated against it twice within 32 weeks of age.


  • Wash your hands thoroughly: Use soap and warm water to scrub the hands for at least 20 seconds, washing around the creases, fingernails, and cuticles.


While rotavirus is generally non-existent in Singapore, it can still be caused by other viruses, and even more so when travelling in foreign countries. Hence, when travelling in other countries, you can reduce your risk of contracting gastroenteritis by drinking and brushing your teeth with well-sealed bottled water and avoiding raw meat, fruits, and vegetables with no proper preparation, such as wearing gloves.



Prevention is better than cure. Ensuring that you take extra caution when handling food and drinks, as well as where your hands have touched, helps reduce the likelihood of getting gastroenteritis. This article is not a guide for you to self-diagnose but rather a guide for you to know more about the potential condition should you experience any of the signs mentioned above. Always go to a doctor for immediate medical attention.


At GUTCARE, we take care of your gut needs, from mild conditions like acid reflux to severe ones like pancreas cancer. Contact us to get peace of mind.


Click here to make an appointment with us today!





About-us-Have-an-enquiry-scaled 1-min

You may also send in an enquiry via our online form if you have questions pertaining to your visit or consultation.

Find doctor thumbn

Unsure of which doctor to speak to? Take a look at our doctors’ profile to find out more.