Viral gastroenteritis is an intestinal infection that is commonly known as stomach flu. Symptoms of stomach flu include watery diarrhea, stomach cramps, and vomiting.

Many different viruses can cause stomach flu. Stomach flu often develops after contact with an infected person or consuming contaminated food or water.

Though stomach flu can be unpleasant, most people recover within a few days without any further complications.

There is no specific treatment for stomach flu, and the infection can usually be left to run its course. Home treatments can improve symptoms, however, and are recommended for anyone who thinks they are ill.

Stomach virus symptoms

A woman is lying in bed holding her stomach.
Symptoms of stomach flu can include stomach cramps and pain.

Although viral gastroenteritis is referred to as a flu, it is not the same as influenza. Influenza only affects the respiratory system, which includes the nose, throat, and lungs. Stomach flu attacks the stomach and intestines.

Symptoms of stomach flu can include:

  • Watery non-bloody diarrhea
  • Stomach cramps and pain
  • Nausea, vomiting, or both
  • Occasional muscle aches or headache
  • Low-grade fever

In most cases, symptoms appear within 1-3 days of infection and can range from mild to severe. People often begin to experience symptoms 12-48 hours after being exposed to the virus. Symptoms often last for 1-2 days. In severe cases, they can last for as many as 10 days.

Five home remedies for stomach flu

Unfortunately, there is no exact treatment plan or cure for stomach flu. Antibiotics don’t help with viral infections, so relief may best be provided by home remedies that relieve the symptoms.

1. Stay hydrated

People with stomach flu often don’t feel like eating and can become dehydrated due to a lack of food. The body also loses a lot of fluids through diarrhea, vomiting, and sweating.

It is important to keep up fluid levels in the body to help avoid dehydration. People with stomach flu should drink plenty of liquids such as clear soda, clear broths, or caffeine-free sports drinks. Slow sips help to keep fluids down.

People who can’t keep food or drink down can snack on ice chips to keep hydrated.

2. Herbs: ginger and peppermint

Ginger helps to reduce inflammation and can help promote digestion by relieving diarrhea and nausea. It can also help to give some relief from stomach cramps and bloating.

Ginger tea with lemon and mint.
Adding ginger, mint, or lemon to water could help relieve some of the symptoms of stomach flu.

This herb is also a natural antiviral that can help fight off the virus causing the flu.

To make ginger tea:

  • Add 1 teaspoon of powdered ginger or ½ teaspoon of fresh ginger root to 1 cup of water
  • Boil 5 minutes and let steep 10 minutes
  • Strain the tea when using fresh ginger root
  • Drink 2-3 times daily to get relief

Ginger can be used as a spice in meals. People with stomach flu can also consume ginger by taking ginger capsules, drinking ginger ale, or chewing a piece of ginger.

Mint such as peppermint can also help to sooth an upset stomach and treat gas and bloating. It is most effective for an upset stomach when used as a tea.

To make mint tea, take a few fresh mint leaves and boil them in water. Strain the infusion. Add some sweetener and stir it. People with stomach flu should drink the tea regularly, once or twice a day, to improve their symptoms.

3. Add a little cinnamon

Cinnamon is a commonly used natural herb that is both anti-inflammatory and antiviral in nature. It helps to improve digestion as well as heal infection. More importantly, cinnamon provides relief from vomiting and nausea.

The warming nature of cinnamon can also help with chills and aches. Add 1 teaspoon of cinnamon powder to a boiling cup of water. Allow it to cool and then strain. One teaspoon of honey can also be added.

Drinking this tea twice a day for at least 2 days may help with stomach flu symptoms. To make a simpler version of the drink, mix 1 half-teaspoon of cinnamon powder and 1 tablespoon of pure honey in a glass of warm water.

4. Chamomile

Chamomile is a plant that can be used as part of a stomach flu remedy. It relaxes the muscles and has anti-inflammatory properties.

This plant can help relieve diarrhea, stomach cramping, bloating, nausea, and gas.

To make chamomile tea:

  • Add 2-3 teaspoons of dried chamomile flowers to a cup of hot water
  • Cover and let it steep for 10-15 minutes
  • Strain, and then add some lemon juice and honey to taste
  • Drink this tea three or four times a day for 2-3 days

Rosemary, red, and fennel tea also have anti-inflammatory properties and can aid digestion.

5. Lemons

Whether it is to clean, fight the common cold, or work against the stomach flu, lemons seem to be a cure-all.

Due to their acid content, lemons are a good home remedy for the stomach flu as they kill the bugs that cause the infection. They are also packed full of vitamin C, which has antimicrobial properties that can help to give the immune system a boost to fight off the virus.

A home remedy for stomach flu using lemons:

  • Mix 1-2 teaspoons of fresh lemon juice in a glass of water
  • Drink the mixture 30 minutes before meals
  • Follow this remedy until the stomach flu has gone

Other helpful tips for treating stomach flu

Avoiding the following foods can also help with stomach flu:

  • Dairy products
  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Nicotine
  • Fatty or highly seasoned foods

People with stomach flu should gradually ease back into eating. Soda crackers, toast, and bananas are good foods to start with.

Two hands being washed under a tap.
Washing hands frequently helps prevent the spread of viruses that can cause stomach flu.

Taking certain medications such as ibuprofen can upset the stomach and make the virus worse. People with stomach flu should use acetaminophen only as directed as it can harm the liver

It is important for people with stomach flu to get plenty of rest because the illness drains their energy, making them feel weak and tired.

Norovirus is the most common form of the stomach flu. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it causes 19-21 million illnesses, contributes to 56,000-71,000 hospitalizations, and 570-800 deaths each year. It is the most common cause of foodborne-disease outbreaks in the United States.

Washing hands frequently and practicing general cleanliness can help prevent the norovirus from spreading. People should always wash hands before handling or preparing food and after using the toilet or changing a diaper.

It is important to wash all fruits and vegetables and thoroughly cook seafood before eating. People who begin to feel ill should not prepare food for others.

People should see a doctor immediately if they:

  • Cannot keep liquids down for 24 hours
  • Are dehydrated
  • Notice blood in their bowel movements
  • Have a fever above 104ºF

Dehydration is when the body does not have enough water to work properly. Signs of dehydration include extreme thirst, a dry mouth, tiredness, a headache, and dizziness.

Doctors can offer help for some symptoms and make sure that they are not caused by another illness. Some bacterial infections cause the same symptoms as stomach flu.

If home remedies do not provide any relief from stomach flu, a doctor can also offer additional professional guidance.