4 Signs Your Stomach Virus May Need Medical Attention

You can treat stomach flu at home—unless you notice these issues.

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The stomach virus, often called the “stomach flu,” is a nasty bug that can be hard to avoid. So hard, in fact, that a norovirus infection causes up to 21 million cases of stomach virus every year in the United States. The silver lining? Out of all those cases, only about 10 percent of them lead to outpatient doctor visits.

“If you think your child has a stomach virus, and they’re staying well hydrated, and it’s only been a day, it’s okay to watch and see,” says Preeti Parikh, MD, a pediatrician at The Mount Sinai Hospital and chief medical editor for HealthiNation.

Known medically as viral gastroenteritis, a stomach virus is actually an umbrella term for a collection of infections by different viruses that cause inflammation in the lining of the stomach and intestines. Two of the most common are rotavirus and norovirus.

You probably know the two trademark signs of a stomach bug: diarrhea and vomiting. Those symptoms, albeit miserable for parents and kiddos alike, don’t typically require medical attention. (Learn all the symptoms of a stomach virus here.)

The key issue when you or your child has a stomach virus is to avoid dehydration. With all those fluids exiting the body in oh-so-unpleasant ways, the primary concern is staying hydrated. Here’s how to avoid dehydration with a stomach virus and what to eat and drink with a stomach virus.

You should bring your child to the doctor if you notice any of the following concerns, according to Dr. Parikh:

  • Symptoms of dehydration

  • Stomach pain that is severe and not getting better

  • Unable to keep down any food or drinks

  • Non-stop diarrhea

While diarrhea and vomiting typically last a day or two, it’s common for your child to have lingering symptoms and not feel totally normally for a week or so. “It does take a while. It can take up to a week before they really feel back to themselves,” says Dr. Parikh. “The best thing to do is to wait it out because you really want to get the virus out of the system.” For that reason, skip  antidiarrheal meds and just focus on hydration.

Of course, another concern is to keep the highly contagious bug from spreading in your household. Here’s crucial advice on how to stomach virus-proof your family.