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Stomach Virus Signs, Symptoms, and Treatments

writtenByWritten by: Tessa Chatham Registered Nurse
Tessa Chatham Registered Nurse

Tessa Chatham Registered Nurse

Tessa is a MSN prepared Registered Nurse with 10 years of critical care experience in healthcare. When not practicing clinical nursing, she enjoys academic writing and is passionate about helping those affected by medical aliments live healthy lives.

Read more posts by this author.
reviewBy Reviewed by: Dr. Katalin Karolyi

Dr. Katalin Karolyi

Katalin Karolyi, M.D. earned her medical degree at the University of Debrecen. After completing her residency program in pathology at the Kenezy Hospital, she obtained a postdoctoral position at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute, Orlando, Florida.

April 14, 2021 Read Time - 6 minutes

What is a Stomach Virus?

A stomach virus, also known as viral gastroenteritis, is an infection that can cause diarrhea and vomiting. It is often referred to as the “stomach flu.” This happens when a virus infects a person’s stomach and intestines.

People can get stomach viruses if they:

  • Touch an infected person or surface that has the virus on it
  • Practice poor hand hygiene (they do not wash their hands well)
  • Eat food or drinks with the virus in them 

The virus can spread through food in drink if an infected person does not wash their hands before handling the food and drink. This is why hand washing is so important among restaurant workers and cooks.

Read on to find out more about the signs and symptoms of a stomach virus, as well as what treatments are available.

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Stomach Virus Symptoms

Stomach virus symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Belly pain
  • Stomach cramps
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

You should seek medical attention if you have had any of the following symptoms:

  • Diarrhea lasting longer than a few days
  • Vomiting blood
  • Vomiting that lasts longer than a few days
  • Vomiting accompanied with severe stomach pain
  • Cannot drink anything without throwing up or nausea (several hours in adults)
  • Decreased urination (no urination 6-8 hours during the day for adults)

Stomach Virus Treatment

There is no medication that is given to cure a stomach virus. Usually, the virus has to run its course.

You must make sure to drink plenty of liquids, as you are more prone to get dehydrated with a stomach virus, due to the loss of fluid through vomiting and diarrhea. You can drink sports drinks such as Gatorade and give Pedialyte to babies or young children. 

People with diarrhea should avoid sugary drinks like soda or juice, as this can make diarrhea worse. If you can keep food down without vomiting, try to eat lean meats, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and cereals. 

Some medications are available to help slow diarrhea, such as Imodium (loperamide). You should only take this medication for 1 or 2 days. If you still have diarrhea after 2 days, you should seek medical treatment. You may need blood, urine, or stool tests to determine the cause of prolonged diarrhea.

The risk of prolonged stomach flu is dehydration. If you are too dehydrated, you may need medical care to get intravenous (IV) fluid therapy. IV therapy is a thin tube that goes into your vein. Through the tube and the vein, a medical staff member administers fluid to rehydrate your body.

Doctors do not treat stomach viruses with antibiotics, because antibiotics are used to treat bacteria, not viruses.

How Long Does A Stomach Virus Last?

Depending on the type of stomach virus you are infected with, symptoms may appear 1 to 3 days after you are exposed to the virus. Symptoms of a stomach virus vary from mild to severe and can last anywhere from 1 to 10 days.

Stomach viruses are not the same as bacterial infections. It is important not to confuse diarrhea that is caused by a virus from diarrhea that is caused by bacteria. Diarrhea can be caused by the following types of bacteria: 

  • Clostridium difficile 
  • Salmonella
  • E. coli
  • Parasites such as Giardia

Most stomach viruses last 2 to 10 days and can vary in severity and symptoms. Types of viruses that cause stomach viruses include:

  • Norovirus 
  • Rotavirus
  • Adenovirus
  • Sapovirus
  • Astrovirus

Read: How Long Does the Stomach Flu Last?

Is A Stomach Virus Contagious?

Yes, a stomach virus can be contagious. Sick people who do not wash their hands before preparing food can spread the stomach flu to others. Stomach viruses are contagious because viruses and bacteria can live in or on food.

If the food is handled or cooked improperly, you have a greater risk of catching the stomach flu. Cross-contamination during cooking also causes stomach viruses to spread. This can happen when a person uses the same cutting board or knife to prepare different foods.

How To Get Rid Of A Stomach Virus

Basic infection prevention steps can be completed in order to get rid of a stomach virus. 

  • Hand hygiene (good hand washing techniques) 
  • Avoiding close contact with someone who has the virus 
  • Disinfecting hard surfaces such as counters, faucets, and doorknobs
  • Use separate rooms for changing diapers or preparing food at a childcare center
  • Get your child vaccinated against rotavirus to decrease the severity of symptoms if caught
  • If traveling, drink only well-sealed bottled water
  • Avoid raw foods that have been touched by human hands
  • Avoid undercooked meat or fish

Medicine For Stomach Virus

There are no medications to cure stomach viruses, since usually they will just run their course and resolve on their own. In some instances, you may become severely dehydrated, in which case you may need stomach flu treatment such as IV fluid therapy under the supervision of a healthcare provider.

Some people who continue to have diarrhea may choose to take over-the-counter stomach flu medications, such as:

  • Imodium
  • Kaopectate
  • Pepto-Bismol
  • Oral rehydration solutions

If you have diarrhea for more than 2 days without improvement,  you should seek medical attention. Otherwise, common home remedies are used to treat stomach viruses. 

Home Remedies For Stomach Virus

Many things can be done at home to help cure stomach viruses. Stomach viruses usually cause vomiting and diarrhea, so it is important to stay hydrated. Your body can fight infections better when properly hydrated. Drinking fluids will help replace the minerals, nutrients, and electrolytes lost by diarrhea and vomiting.

Some home remedies for stomach viruses include:

  • Drink water, broth, or electrolyte solution (water with electrolytes)
  • Eat small meals that do not have fat
  • Rest as much as you can

Stomach Virus vs Food Poisoning

Food poisoning is an illness that can cause stomach upset, vomiting, or diarrhea, and is caused by eating food that contains viruses, bacteria, or parasites. Food poisoning or gastroenteritis both can be caused by a virus named norovirus.

Symptoms of food poisoning usually occur a few hours to 1 week after ingestion of the contaminated food. Symptoms of food poisoning include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach pain or cramping
  • Diarrhea (watery or bloody)
  • Fever
  • Dizziness (from fluid loss)
  • Book on our free mobile app or website.

    Our doctors operate in all 50 states and same day appointments are available every 15 minutes.

  • See a doctor, get treatment and a prescription at your local pharmacy.

  • Use your health insurance just like you normally would to see your doctor.


Get Stomach Virus Treatment Online

Stomach viruses are common and can usually be treated at home. Make an appointment to speak with a PlushCare provider online if you have:

  • Stomach flu symptoms which have not improved in 2 days
  • You can`t keep liquids down
  • Blood in your vomit or bowel movement
  • A fever that does not go away
  • Severe belly pain

These may be signs of a more serious problem. 

When you meet with an online doctor at PlushCare, you can speak with a board-certified primary care physician, who can help create the right treatment plan for you. To schedule an appointment with a PlushCare doctor, click here.

Read More About Stomach Virus Signs, Symptoms, and Treatments


PlushCare is dedicated to providing you with accurate and trustworthy health information.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. General Information about Norovirus. Accessed on January 22, 2021.

Cleveland Clinic. Viral gastroenteritis (stomach flu). Accessed on February 14, 2021.

Mayo Clinic. Viral Gastroenteritis (Stomach Flu). Accessed on April 13, 2021 at

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Treatment of Viral Gastroenteritis (“Stomach Flu”). Accessed on April 13, 2021 at 

Orenstein R. (2020). Gastroenteritis, Viral. Encyclopedia of Gastroenterology, 652–657.

Most PlushCare articles are reviewed by M.D.s, Ph.Ds, N.P.s, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. Click here to learn more and meet some of the professionals behind our blog. The PlushCare blog, or any linked materials are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. For more information click here.

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