The Stomach Flu and You (Part 1)

What is the stomach flu?

The “stomach flu” is really a misnomer: it’s not the flu that you get protection from when you get the flu shot and has nothing to do with it, and for this reason many pediatricians prefer the term “stomach bug” to describe the group of viruses that can upset your child’s stomach, bringing on nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

The two main culprits are the rotavirus, which is more common in the colder winter months, and the adenovirus and echovirus, both of which prefer the warmer climates of summer and spring — but there are other bugs out there, as well. In fact, the reason children seem to get what people call the “stomach flu” so often is because there are so many viruses that can cause it. The good news is that, while uncomfortable (and let’s face it, pretty gross!), a stomach bug is not a serious illness in most cases and will usually resolve itself on its own after a few days of rest. Here’s our guide to spotting the symptoms, taking care of your little patient, knowing when to call MacKoul Pediatrics— and avoiding it altogether.

How do I know I know it’s stomach flu vs. food poisoning?

Stomach bugs can have a variety of symptoms that vary between children. Some children will simply have a stomach ache and a decreased appetite, others will have just vomiting or diarrhea — and yet some others still will have the wonderful combination of both. Your child may have a fever, or they might also just vomit once and be done with it.

While food poisoning shares some of those same symptoms, it’s important to remember that it usually hits pretty quickly after eating the food in question. Did little Anna have some bad potato salad at that afternoon’s picnic? Did tiny Ben secretly scarf down the rest of the tuna sandwich that had been sitting on the counter for a few hours? Typically your child will get sick very soon after such an occurrence, and it usually goes away pretty quickly. Stomach bugs, on the other hand, like to hang around for three to five (sometimes even seven!) days.

Could it be something worse?

One condition no parent or pediatrician wants to miss is appendicitis, whose main symptom is a pretty bad stomachache (and which can involve vomiting, too). Here are some ways to distinguish it from other conditions that target the stomach. Kids with appendicitis will often:
  • Have pain around the belly button that moves to the lower right side
  • Have a fever
  • Not want to eat
  • Develop pain that is so severe they refuse to walk, jump, or even move
It can be a little tricky if a stomach bug comes with cramping right before a child has diarrhea, but if the diarrhea relieves it a little that’s a sign it might just be a bug. If you’re thinking that it’s not just bad vomiting and diarrhea, but that your child is really complaining of pain, that’s a good reason to call MacKoul Pediatrics of Cape Corals and have us check your child out.

When should I call a doctor?

The Stomach Flu and You (Part 1)If you have a baby under a year of age, you should be checking with MacKoul Pediatrics of Cape Coral for anything that goes on for more than two days. The main concern with a stomach bug is that nausea and vomiting can lead to dehydration, which can strike small children much faster — and with more serious consequences. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 40 babies who come down with a stomach bug will require hospitalization for dehydration.

Also call MacKoul Pediatrics of Cape Coral if there is any blood in the diarrhea or vomit, which is not common with stomach bugs. Typically you find blood in the stool or vomit with more serious bacterial infections, such as E. coli. If you see blood, call MacKoul Pediatrics immediately.

Other reasons to check in with us include any illness that lasts longer than two days for a kid under two, or three days for older kids who don’t show any improvement. You should also call your friendly neighborhood Cape Coral pediatrician if your child appears dehydrated or is not drinking enough fluids.

Want to know more? Continue on to Part 2 of The Stomach Flu and You.

About MacKoul Pediatrics

MacKoul Pediatrics of Cape Coral is an amazing local pediatrics office in Cape Coral, FL where caring, compassionate doctors and nurses work with you to keep your children as healthy as possible. MacKoul cares for children from birth to college age, from Cape Coral, Fort Myers, Naples, and beyond.

Author Dr. David MacKoul
Revised June 2020
March 18, 2015