GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) – Bon Secours Nurse Practitioner Elizabeth Lacy said the most common time for viral gastroenteritis, often referred to as the “stomach bug,” to spread, is between December and April.

According to the Mayo Clinic, a number of viruses can cause viral gastroenteritis, including noroviruses or a rotavirus. The condition is an intestinal infection marked by watery diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea or vomiting, and sometimes fever and can be contracted after eating or drinking contaminated food or water, or sharing utensils, towels or food with someone who’s infected.

Lacy said the virus is often spread in vomit and stool.

“The primary means of spread is when someone who is sick doesn’t wash their hands properly after using the restroom,” she said. “If they then have some of that virus left on their hands, they can go and touch a door knob touch a countertop. Someone else unsuspecting comes along and touches that same surface and then touches their nose or their mouth. They can become infected with that virus themselves and then get sick.”

Depending on the cause, the Mayo Clinic reported that viral gastroenteritis symptoms may appear within one to three days after you’re infected and can range from mild to severe. Symptoms usually last just a day or two, but occasionally they may persist as long as 10 days.

Lacy said symptoms of gastroenteritis can sometimes look similar to symptoms of COVID-19.

“A lot of times people with COVID-19 will actually initially present with some of those gastrointestinal symptoms, especially diarrhea and loss of appetite,” she said. However, she said wearing  face mask will not prevent you from getting viral gastroenteritis.

“Viral gastroenteritis is not respiratory virus,” she said. “It’s not going to be as effective in spreading that. The primary means to prevent the spread is going to be proper hand hygiene.”

If you do have gastroenteritis, Lacy recommended that you isolate yourself to avoid spreading it to others, avoid sharing utensils with those who live in your household and wash linens with hot water.

For treatment, she recommends getting plenty of rest and drinking lots of fluids, including electrolyte-rich drinks such as Gatorade or Pedialyte, water and broth. She advised people to avoid things like milk alcohol and caffeine, which can lead to dehydration.

She said to see a doctor if you have a high fever, extreme abdominal pain, blood in your stool or vomit or become too dehydrated, which can become apparent if you have extreme thirst of decreased urination.

The Mayo Clinic said those with gastroenteritis can be contagious from a few days up to more than two weeks, depending on which virus is causing the condition.

For more information, click here.

To submit a health topic for our series, click here.