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What to eat when you have a stomach virus?

Medically reviewed by Leigh Ann Anderson, PharmD. Last updated on Oct 26, 2021.

Official answer

by Drugs.com

When you have a stomach virus, it is best to eat bland and easy to-digest foods until your symptoms improve, such as:

  • rice
  • bananas
  • soda crackers (“saltines”)
  • applesauce
  • plain toast
  • gelatin (“jello”)
  • plain chicken

It’s best to stay away from caffeine, soda, dairy, alcohol, high amounts of sugar, and fried, fatty, acidic or spicy foods until you feel better.

You may want to stop eating solid foods for a few hours, and then slowly ease back into eating small amounts once your nausea subsides. If your symptoms return, stop eating again for a while, and retry in a few hours.

During a stomach virus, also known as viral gastroenteritis, the stomach and intestine become inflamed and infected with the virus. It can suddenly lead to nausea, vomiting and diarrhea in both children and adults. You may also have a headache, stomach pain and cramps, or a fever.

What is the best thing to drink if you have a stomach virus?

  • Drink small sips of water, clear broth, sports drinks (without caffeine), or rehydration solutions. You can also try sucking on ice chips.
  • Wait about 2 hours since your last episode of vomiting before you start fluids.
  • Continue to drink sips of fluids (over a long period) to help prevent dehydration.

It is important to prevent dehydration which can easily happen with vomiting or diarrhea. Dehydration is a loss of body fluids like water and electrolytes. Symptoms of dehydration include dry mouth, thirst, dizziness, confusion and dark yellow urine.

Babies and young children should receive an oral rehydration solution (for example: Pedialyte) which you can buy without a prescription at the grocery store or pharmacy. Infants may usually continue to breastfeed, but check with your doctor for advice.

Dehydration can be especially dangerous or life-threatening in babies, small children, people with weak immune systems and the elderly. If dehydration is severe, you or your child may need to be given fluids through a vein (intravenous or IV).

Review: Dehydration in children

Is a stomach virus contagious?

Yes, a stomach virus is contagious, and you can get it from another person’s unwashed hands, from contaminated surfaces, or from food or drink that contains the virus.

The most common stomach viruses in the U.S. are the norovirus (often called the Norwalk virus), rotavirus (common in babies and young children), enterovirus, and adenovirus.

Children are typically vaccinated against the rotavirus as an infant. The rotavirus vaccine will help protect most children (9 out of 10) from severe disease.

Norovirus is the most common stomach virus overall, but is NOT just acquired from cruise ships, as is often thought. Stomach viruses can spread easily from many places where people congregate, such as schools, college dorms, churches, nursing homes, campgrounds, and prisons.

How long does a stomach virus last?

Uncomplicated stomach viruses are self-limiting in most people, and it will usually clear up on its own in 24 hours to one week.

You may continue to be contagious for a few days after you feel better and the virus may remain in your stool for several weeks, so it is important to practice strict hand-washing. Keep children home from school or daycare for at least 48 hours after they last have diarrhea or vomiting.

You do not need to be treated with an antibiotic for a viral stomach virus because antibiotics kill bacteria, not viruses. However, gastroenteritis can also occur with bacteria and parasites.

Call your doctor if you or your child:

  • has symptoms of dehydration
  • has diarrhea or vomiting that does not clear up in a few days
  • has blood or pus in the stool
  • is vomiting up blood or it has a green tint
  • has a fever
  • is unable to drink or keep fluids down
  • have not urinated in 6 to 8 hours
  • have weak immune systems (immunocompromised)
  • has had a history of recent travel to a foreign country or any area where sanitation is poor
  • have symptoms that seem severe or are worrisome to you

Related: How to treat stomach viruses in children

Are the stomach flu and stomach virus the same thing?

The stomach virus is not a “stomach flu”, although you may hear it called by this name.

Influenza (the “flu") is a disease that only occurs in the respiratory system, for example, the nose, throat and lungs. During the respiratory flu you may still have stomach symptoms (usually in children), although usually the symptoms only involve the respiratory system.

Learn more: Viral gastroenteritis

This is not all the information you need to know about viral gastroenteritis (stomach virus) and does not take the place of talking to your doctor about your treatment. Discuss this information and any questions you have with your doctor or other health care provider.

References
  • Patient education: Viral gastroenteritis (The Basics). In: UpToDate, Post TW (Ed), UpToDate, Waltham, MA. Accessed Oct. 26, 2021 at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/viral-gastroenteritis-the-basics/
  • Misconceptions about Seasonal Flu and Flu Vaccines. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Accessed Oct. 26, 2021 at https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/misconceptions.htm
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Accessed Oct. 26, 2021 at https://www.cdc.gov/norovirus/index.html

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