How long am I contagious if I have the stomach flu?
You can be contagious from a few days up to two weeks or more, depending on which virus is causing your stomach flu (gastroenteritis).
A number of viruses can cause gastroenteritis, including noroviruses and rotaviruses. The contagious period — the time during which a sick person can give the illness to others — differs slightly for each virus.
Norovirus. With norovirus — the most common cause of viral gastroenteritis in adults — you're contagious when you begin to feel ill. Symptoms usually appear within one to two days of exposure.
Although you typically feel better after a day or two, you're contagious for a few days after you recover. The virus can remain in your stool for up to two weeks or more after recovery.
Children should stay home from school or child care for at least 48 hours after the last time they vomit or have diarrhea.
- Rotavirus. Symptoms of rotavirus — the leading cause of viral gastroenteritis in infants and young children — usually appear one to three days after exposure. But you're contagious even before you develop symptoms, and up to two weeks after you've recovered.
The viruses that cause gastroenteritis are spread through close contact with infected people, such as by sharing food or eating utensils, and by touching contaminated surfaces and objects. Eating contaminated food also can cause norovirus.
Washing your hands often with soap and water is the most effective way to stop the spread of these viruses to others. If you can't wash your hands, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, which can reduce germs.
To help keep others from getting sick, disinfect contaminated surfaces immediately after someone vomits or has diarrhea. Wear disposable gloves, and use a bleach-based household cleanser or 2 cups (0.5 liters) of bleach in a gallon (3.8 liters) of water. Norovirus can survive for months on surfaces not adequately disinfected with bleach solution.
Also wear disposable gloves to immediately wash clothes or linens that might be contaminated.
Two oral rotavirus vaccines are available for young infants — RotaTeq and Rotarix. Vaccines for norovirus are in clinical trials.
Pritish K. Tosh, M.D.
March 04, 2020
Get the latest health advice from Mayo Clinic delivered
to your inbox.
Sign up for free, and stay up-to-date on research
advancements, health tips and current health topics,
like COVID-19, plus expert advice on managing your health.
ErrorEmail field is required
ErrorInclude a valid email address
To provide you with the most relevant and helpful information and to understand which
is beneficial, we may combine your e-mail and website usage information with other
information we have about you. If you are a Mayo Clinic Patient,
this could include Protected Health Information (PHI). If we combine this information
with your PHI, we will treat all of that information as PHI,
and will only use or disclose that information as set forth in our notice of privacy
practices. You may opt-out of e-mail communications
at any time by clicking on the Unsubscribe link in the e-mail.
Thank you for Subscribing
Our Housecall e-newsletter will keep you up-to-date
on the latest health information.
We’re sorry! Our system isn’t working. Please try again.
Something went wrong on our side, please try again.
See more Expert Answers
- Norovirus. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/norovirus/about/index.html. Accessed Feb. 4, 2018.
- Matson DO. Acute viral gastroenteritis in children in resource-rich countries: Management and prevention. https://uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Feb. 4, 2018.
- Prevent the spread of norovirus. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/features/norovirus/index.html. Accessed Feb. 4, 2018.
- Viral gastroenteritis. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/viral-gastroenteritis. Accessed Feb. 4, 2018.