Antibiotics cannot treat viral gastroenteritis. This is because stomach flu is due to a virus, not a bacteria. However, if someone has bacterial gastroenteritis, a doctor may be able to treat it using antibiotics.

Viral gastroenteritis is a condition that several different viruses can cause. The term “gastroenteritis” refers to inflammation in the intestines and stomach, which may cause pain, cramps, vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea.

People may use the term “stomach flu” to refer to viral gastroenteritis. This name is medically inaccurate as the cause of the infection is not influenza viruses, which affect the respiratory system. However, for the purposes of this article, we will use the term stomach flu.

In the United States, an estimated 179 million people per year experience an illness attributable to stomach flu.

Read on to discover whether antibiotics can treat stomach flu, how to treat and prevent the condition, and when to speak with a healthcare professional.

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Antibiotics cannot treat viral gastroenteritis. This is because it is a virus that causes the infection, not bacteria.

However, people can use antibiotics to treat bacterial gastroenteritis, which people may refer to as food poisoning. Several different types of bacteria can cause food poisoning, including:

Although antibiotics can treat gastroenteritis if it is bacterial, not everyone will require or benefit from antibiotic treatment. This is especially true if the bacteria causing the condition is E. coli that produces the Shiga toxin.

Doctors may recommend antibiotics including azithromycin or fluoroquinolones such as ciprofloxacin in some cases, particularly if a person displays the following symptoms:

  • produces more than 6 stools per day
  • has a fever
  • requires hospitalization

Doctors may also wish to prescribe antibiotics for bacterial gastroenteritis if a person has specific risk factors, including:

Stomach flu typically resolves on its own after a few days, so most people will not need to speak with a doctor.

Treatment options for viral gastroenteritis typically center around replenishing lost fluids and electrolytes and getting lots of rest to help conserve energy and prevent dehydration.

People may try oral rehydration solutions to help replace electrolytes they lose if they become dehydrated. Both vomiting and diarrhea can potentially cause dehydration.

People can also try replacing electrolytes with:

Learn more about electrolyte drinks and how to make them.

Stomach flu is highly transmissible, meaning it can pass between people very easily. Therefore, it is extremely important to maintain high levels of hygiene and sanitation around the home, workplaces, and anywhere where groups of people share spaces and mix indoors.

To help prevent the transmission of stomach flu, people may try taking the following steps:

  • having their children vaccinated against rotavirus, which is a cause of stomach flu
  • refraining from cooking or handling food for other people if they have stomach flu
  • washing their hands, especially before and after touching food, changing a baby’s diaper, or using the bathroom
  • disinfecting any surfaces that infected vomit or stool may have touched
  • washing any clothes, bedsheets, tablecloths, or other fabrics that may have come into contact with stool or vomit

If a person’s symptoms do not resolve with rest and fluids after a few days, they may wish to speak to a doctor, especially if they:

Antibiotics cannot treat stomach flu (viral gastroenteritis) as it does not result from a bacterial infection. Instead, viruses cause stomach flu. Viral gastroenteritis treatment focuses on preventing dehydration and getting lots of fluids and rest.

However, if a person has bacterial gastroenteritis, they may be able to treat the condition using antibiotics. Although, not everyone with the condition will require or benefit from antibiotic treatment.

A person should speak with a healthcare professional about which treatments may be most suitable for them.