This time of year, viruses and germs are always present at schools and daycares, and kids’ immune systems have trouble defending against infection. This means one thing: A lot of sick kids at the beginning of the school year. (We recently wrote about the “back-to-school plague” on the blog.)
But it’s not only colds and the flu that parents need to watch out for. Stomach flu, or gastroenteritis, is also common during back-to-school and into spring.
Rotavirus and norovirus – two of the most common viruses that cause stomach flu – affect most kids between November and December into late spring. Cold and flu season, on the other hand, begins in October and peaks between January and March.
What’s the Difference between Influenza and Stomach Flu?
The common cold and influenza are viruses that affect the upper respiratory tract. Common cold symptoms include cough, sore throat, nasal congestion, watery eyes and possible fever. Flu symptoms are more severe and include fever, chills, fatigue, body aches, cough and sneezing.
Although we refer to gastroenteritis as stomach flu, it’s not related to influenza and isn’t a respiratory illness. Instead, viral gastroenteritis is the inflammation of the stomach and intestinal tract, and symptoms are much different. According to Mayo Clinic, symptoms of stomach flu include:
- Abdominal pain and cramps
Stomach flu is the leading cause of diarrhea for adults and children, according to the National Center for Biotechnical Information.[i] And unfortunately, diarrhea can quickly lead to dehydration.
How Are Colds, the Flu and Stomach Flu Spread?
The reason children are most likely to catch a cold or the flu is because they’re often in close contact with their peers. Colds and flus are primarily transmitted by coughing and sneezing, or sharing and touching objects that have been contaminated.
Gastroenteritis, on the other hand, can be transmitted through contaminated food and drinks. But in school environments, stomach flu is more likely to be contracted by touching surfaces like drinking fountains or lunchroom trays, or objects like toys or markers that have been contaminated. Then, those viruses enter the body when fingers or hands touch the mouth, eyes or nose.
In fact, a meta-analysis of 30 studies[ii] examined the link between hand washing and lower rates of infection, and authors suggested that proper hand-washing could reduce infections by 31 percent. Other prevention strategies for cold, flu or stomach flu include:
- Covering coughs and sneezes
- Avoiding contact with the nose, eyes or mouth with unwashed hands
- Keeping your children home from school when they’re sick
Stomach flu is very contagious, and often, entire families can become sick. Norovirus is the leading cause. A 2013 study estimated that 1 in 278 U.S. children will be treated for norovirus illness at the hospital before turning 5 years old; 1 in 14 will require trips to the emergency room; and 1 in 6 will be treated with outpatient care.[iii]
Stomach flu, colds and influenza can all drain the body of essential fluids and electrolytes. DripDrop ORS is a doctor-formulated oral rehydration powder designed to replenish electrolytes and promote faster relief from dehydration.