Skip navigation

child with stomach ache

Two words parents dread hearing during the school year: stomach flu. Common in children, the stomach flu is highly contagious and can quickly cause your household to feel under the weather. Learn more about how the disease spreads and the steps you can take to try and prevent it.


How does the stomach flu spread?

The stomach flu (viral gastroenteritis) is an infection of the stomach and intestines caused by different viruses, namely norovirus and rotavirus, that tends to circulate between November and April. The most common way stomach flu spreads is through touch: skin-to-skin contact or touching contaminated surfaces.

“It’s a highly contagious virus, and you don’t need much of the virus to be infected,” said Alan Bulbin, MD, Catholic Health Infectious Disease Specialist. “The highest risk is when you are around someone symptomatic. That’s how you can get household outbreaks.”


What are the symptoms of the stomach flu?

The most common symptoms are nausea, stomach cramping, vomiting and diarrhea. Symptoms typically occur one to three days after infection and can last up to 14 days. 

Additionally, a person can be contagious from a few days to two weeks after contracting the stomach virus. Most people can return to school and work 48 hours after experiencing vomiting or diarrhea. But always consult your doctor before returning to normal activities.


How is the stomach flu treated?

Most cases of the stomach flu can be managed at home through over-the-counter medications and drinking plenty of fluids. Getting plenty of rest will also help you start to recover sooner.

Severe cases may cause the need for hospitalization. Seek emergency medical attention if you experience the following symptoms:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Bloody vomit or diarrhea
  • High fever of 103 F degrees or higher
  • Inability to keep liquids down
  • Dehydration (signs include feeling thirsty or lightheaded, dry mouth and dark-colored urine)

How is the stomach flu different from food poisoning?

The stomach flu and food poisoning share similar symptoms but have different causes. Food poisoning is caused by bacteria ingested when eating a contaminated food item and is not contagious. Visit your doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment if you are feeling sick.


Is the stomach flu preventable?

Regularly practicing proper hygiene and sanitation is the best way to help prevent you and your family from getting the stomach flu. This includes:

  • Washing your hands often
  • Avoiding close contact with people who are sick
  • Using a bleach-based cleaner to sanitize surfaces that may be contaminated
  • Covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze

Find care at Catholic Health

Find a Catholic Health doctor near you. Or call 866-MY-LI-DOC (866-695-4362). Explore our pediatric services.

Join the In Good Health Newsletter

Get helpful health tips, read inspirational stories, and discover new recipes.

Explore More

mother wiping child's nose with tissue

Get the Facts: RSV in Children

How to Prepare for Flu Season

man on couch wiping nose

Tips for When Your Baby Has a Cold

baby crying
browser error

Browser Error

Diagnosis: Our website no longer supports this web browser.

Treatment: Please use one of the following browsers for the best possible outcome.

  • edge web browser iconEdge
  • chrome web browser iconChrome
  • safari web browser iconSafari
  • firefox web browser iconFirefox