The 24-hour flu or stomach flu are common terms that refers to an illness with short-lived gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, diarrhea and vomiting. More accurately termed gastroenteritis, this illness is typically caused by a virus, and sometimes is transmitted through food or water. However, the 24-hour flu is not related to the influenza or flu virus -- which typically causes respiratory symptoms, body aches and fever. Although gastroenteritis is usually short-lived, lasting 24 to 72 hours, young children and older adults can develop more severe symptoms where medical intervention is needed.
Gastroenteritis, or inflammation of the stomach and intestines, may be caused by a variety of viruses, but in adults, it is most commonly caused by the norovirus infection. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), norovirus infections occur more often from November to April, with usual symptoms of diarrhea, vomiting, nausea and stomach pain. Typically lasting for 24 to 72 hours, norovirus can also cause fever, body aches and headaches.
Rotavirus is a viral infection that most commonly affects infants and children. Symptoms from this illness last longer -- 3 to 8 days -- but this virus also causes gastroenteritis and could be inaccurately labeled the 24-hour flu. Rotavirus disease typically causes watery diarrhea, vomiting, fever and abdominal pain. In addition, poor appetite and dehydration may occur -- and severe dehydration can be dangerous in children and infants, requiring urgent medical attention.
Foodborne Illness Symptoms
The CDC estimates that over 250 foodborne illnesses are known, caused by a variety of bacteria, parasites and viruses -- including the rotavirus and norovirus. These many illnesses have an array of symptoms, time of onset and duration, but nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain are the most common. However, in foodborne illness, diarrhea may be watery or bloody, and weight loss or fever may occur. Certain foodborne illnesses also lead to nerve effects, including pins and needles pain, a prickling sensation or motor weakness. While many forms of foodborne illness go away on their own, some require medical intervention to minimize vomiting and diarrhea, treat or prevent severe dehydration and manage other serious health effects.
Warnings and Precautions
Most of the time, gastroenteritis is short-lived and goes away after a few days. But because of fluid losses associated with vomiting and diarrhea, dehydration is the most worrisome complication of gastroenteritis. Symptoms of dehydration include low urine volume, dark yellow urine, dizziness, dry mouth, cracked lips or tiredness. Children and infants may make no tears when crying, be unusually fussy or sleepy or have a fever. If you or your child have symptoms of dehydration, blood in the stool, symptoms that are severe or symptoms that don't go away after a few days, see a doctor. Dehydration and infections can lead to more severe and life-threatening consequences in the very young and older persons, as well as anyone with a compromised immune system. In these individuals, medical advice may be warranted when symptoms start.
Is This an Emergency?
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Norovirus Symptoms
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Rotavirus Symptoms
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Foodborne Germs and Illnesses
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention: Diagnosis and Management of Foodborne Illnesses A Primer for Physicians and Other Health Care Professionals
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Influenza Symptoms
- National Institues of Health: Viral Gastroenteritis