Diarrhea and vomiting are sometimes referred to as the "stomach flu," however flu virus is a respiratory infection and does not typically cause vomiting or diarrhea. Getting a flu shot does not protect you from the most common causes of vomiting and diarrhea. (See also Flu and Vaccination.)
If you experience diarrhea or vomiting, you may wish to consult your health care provider. To use UHS, see Schedule an Appointment, and remember, calling could save you a visit.
On this page:
- Self-care for adults
- If you are sick in a Residence Hall
- When to seek medical care
- Tips for academic success if you are sick
- More information
- In general, diarrhea and vomiting can be caused by:
- Bacteria, viruses (including norovirus) or parasites
- Food poisoning e.g. from food that has been improperly stored
- Consumption of irritating food, drink or medication
- Overeating or overdrinking (especially alcohol)
- Stress or anxiety
Norovirus, a common cause of infectious outbreaks, can easily spread from person to person. People are contagious from the moment they begin to feel ill until at least three days after recovery. Good hygiene is critical to break the chain of transmission (see Prevention). Specific means of transmission are:
- Having close contact with another person who is infected, for example by providing health care or sharing food or utensils
- Touching contaminated objects then touching your mouth
- Consuming contaminated food or drinks
Symptoms may include abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and fever. People may feel very sick and vomit many times a day. Most people improve within three days. However, sometimes people become dehydrated and need medical attention. Dehydration is most serious for the very young, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. See also When to Seek Medical Care.
For vomiting, follow these instructions in order:
- Do not eat or drink anything for several hours after vomiting.
- Sip small amounts of water or suck ice chips every 15 minutes for 3-4 hours.
- Next sip clear liquids every 15 minutes for 3-4 hours. Examples include water, sports drinks, flat soda, clear broth, gelatin, flavored ice or apple juice. Do not drink citrus juices or milk. Increase fluids as tolerated.
- When you can tolerate clear liquids for several hours without vomiting and if you're hungry, try eating small amounts of bland foods. Try foods such as bananas, rice, applesauce, dry toast, soda crackers (these foods are called BRAT diet). For 24-48 hours after the last episode of vomiting, avoid foods that can irritate or may be difficult to digest such alcohol, caffeine, fats/oils, spicy food, milk or cheese.
- When you can tolerate bland food, you can resume your normal diet.
Retake medications if vomiting occurs within 30 minutes of taking usual medication. If you vomited after taking oral contraceptive pills, use a back-up contraception method for the rest of the month.
If diarrhea is the only symptom, try Imodium, a non-prescription (over-the-counter) medication available at the UHS Pharmacy according to package directions. Follow a bland diet (see 4 above). After the passage of a soft, formed stool, you can resume a normal diet. Seek medical care if you have no improvement within 48 hours after starting Imodium.
You can ask a friend to make arrangements to bring you food from the dining room. See information about Feel Better Meals.
If you have questions or concerns about your food intake, you may call the Dining Services dietician at 734-647-2614 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org .
Notify your Housing director and let your parent/s know if you are ill. If you need assistance, contact the staff at your Community Center.
If you are sick and work in food service, you should contact your supervisor.
Anytime you experience vomiting, diarrhea or nausea and want to seek medical care, please do so. Following are situations when it is critical to seek medical care. See More Information for how to get advice or medical care at UHS.
Seek medical care if:
- You are unable to keep down liquids or food for more than 24 hours.
- You have fever (101º F or 38.3º C or higher) with abdominal pain (may include diarrhea, vomiting, nausea).
- You have diarrhea for more than 3 days or without gradual improvement over 5 days.
- You have signs of dehydration, for example light headedness, decreased urination (no urination at least every 8 hours) or severe fatigue.
- You have bloody diarrhea.
- You have abdominal pain that is not relieved by vomiting and/or diarrhea (that is, abdominal pain is unrelated to episodes of vomiting or diarrhea).
- You have insulin-dependent diabetes and experience vomiting, diarrhea or nausea.
- You are unable to take medications that you usually take.
- You have recently traveled to a country that poses a health risk.
Wash hands frequently with soap and water and wash for at least 20 seconds (sing Hail to the Victors!), especially after toilet visits and before eating. Hand-washing is more effective than hand sanitizer against norovirus, but do use alcohol-based sanitizer when hand-washing is not possible.
Don't share eating utensils, drinking glasses or bottles, toothbrushes or other personal items.
Sharing phones, keyboards and other items? Be sure to wash your hands and clean surfaces. Using wipes with bleach helps.
Immediately after an episode of illness, flush vomit and feces in the toilet and make sure that the surrounding area is clean.
Before cleaning, put on disposable gloves if possible.
Place contaminated waste in a plastic bag, tie the bag and put it in a trash receptacle.
Thoroughly clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces including doorknobs and faucets. Clean first, then spray the area with a disinfectant cleaner (e.g. Lysol) or clean with a wipe that has bleach (see Video for instructions). You can buy cleaning products at a pharmacy, grocery store and at U-M retail stores. Be mindful that bleach can harm fabrics. Dispose of used cleaning items in the trash.
Keep soiled clothing separate from other clothing, and wash soiled clothing or linens in hot water. Also use pre-wash cycle if it's available.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
Stay home when you are sick and for 48 hours after the last episode.
Avoid close contact with people who are sick, if possible.
To use UHS, see Schedule an Appointment. Appointments are required for most medical services, however options are available for urgent concerns.
UHS offers Nurse Advice by Phone, day and night, which may save you a trip to UHS or the ER.
U-M faculty and staff may contact the U-M Occupational Safety and Environmental Health at 734-647-1143.
Read more about viral gastroenteritis from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention .