How to survive the stomach flu

It can be a little tricky if a stomach bug comes with cramping right before a child has diarrhea.

Story highlights

  • The two main culprits are the rotavirus and the adenovirus and echovirus
  • A stomach bug is not a serious illness and will resolve on its own
  • Call your doctor if there is any blood in the diarrhea or vomit
Uh oh: puke alert!
What parents need to know about treating stomach bugs, keeping your child comfortable, and how long the virus usually lasts
What is the stomach flu?
The "stomach flu" is really a misnomer, explains Barbara Frankowski, MD, professor of pediatrics at Vermont Children's Hospital in Burlington. "It's not the flu that you get protection from when you get the flu shot," says Frankowski. She prefers to use the term stomach bug to describe a group of viruses that can upset your stomach, bringing on nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
The two main culprits are the rotavirus, which is more common in the winter months, and the adenovirus and echovirus, both of which prefer the climate in the summer and spring. In fact, says Frankowski, the reason kids 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, gross), in most kids, a stomach bug is not a serious illness and will resolve on its own after a few days of TLC. Here's our guide to spotting the symptoms, taking care of your little patient, knowing when to call your doctor, 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, says Frankowski. "Some kids will just have a stomachache and a decreased appetite, some will have just vomiting or diarrhea, and some will have the wonderful combination of both." Your child may have a fever, and, generally speaking, the more symptoms she racks up, the more severe the illness will be. She might also just vomit once, and be done with it.
While food poisoning shares some of those same symptoms, it usually hits pretty quickly after eating the food in question (did Chloe have potato salad at that afternoon's picnic? Did Ben scarf down the rest of the tuna sandwich that had been sitting on the counter for a few hours?). Though it may come with fever, it often doesn't, and it usually goe