University Health Services
McCosh Health Center
Princeton, NJ 08544
Tel 609-258-3141, 609-258-3139


Gastroenteritis (stomach/intestinal flu)
self-care tips

Since the beginning of February, we have been seeing a large number of gastroenteritis (stomach/intestinal flu) cases at Princeton University Health Services. Fifty-three (53) students have been admitted to the Inpatient Services to date (2/14/02). We are providing the following information in the best interest of the health of the campus community.

What is gastroenteritis?

Gastroenteritis, the irritation and inflammation of the stomach and small and large intestines, can be severe and unpleasant, and can result in a loss of essential fluid and nutrients from the body. The symptoms of gastroenteritis can include:

• abdominal cramps
• nausea and vomiting
• diarrhea
• loss of appetite
• weakness
• fever or chills
• headache
• dehydration

If signs of dehydration (crinkled skin, dry mouth, excess thirst or absence of urination for more than six hours) appear, University Health Services, 258-3141 or 258-3139, should be consulted as soon as possible. University Health Services should also be consulted if any of the following occur:

• symptoms persisting for more than 48 hours
• mucus or blood in stools
• fever over 101 degrees
• severe abdominal or rectal pain
• vomiting and diarrhea after being treated 

In general, the symptoms begin 1 to 2 days following infection with a virus that causes gastroenteritis and may last for 1 to 10 days, depending on which virus causes the illness. The current Princeton illness typically begins with a headache and lasts only 24 hours. Gastroenteritis is often called the "stomach flu," although it is not caused by the influenza viruses.

Typically gastroenteritis is not a serious illness and is short in duration. However, gastroenteritis is a serious illness for persons who are unable to drink enough fluids to replace what they lose through vomiting or diarrhea. In such cases, it is best to consult Princeton University Health Services. Since it's sometimes hard to leave your residence during a bout with an upset stomach, the triage nurses (who are available for consultation over the phone 24 hours a day at 258-3141 or 258-3139) can serve as great resources. You can also call Public Safety at 258-3134 for a ride to McCosh Health Center.

Gastroenteritis can be prevented!

Gastroenteritis is very contagious and can be easily passed from one person to another. It is possible to reduce the chance of getting infected by engaging in frequent hand washing, especially when preparing food and after bowel movements. Hand washing after bowel movements is important since the organism that causes this condition lives in the digestive tract. Also, food and drink should not be shared with others.

Self-care tips:

A person with gastroenteritis will not want to do anything much other than stay in bed and pay frequent visits to the bathroom, and so will need looking after. It is most important to keep drinking to replace the fluid that is lost. There are a few additional things that you can do to make yourself feel better. Give these a try:

• decrease activity until vomiting and diarrhea subside
• do not eat or drink anything for a few hours when the symptoms begin, then begin sips of clear fluids such as ginger ale, broth, tea and gelatin for the first 24 hours or until diarrhea and vomiting stop
• eat bland foods for the second 24 hours, such as crackers, rice, eggs, soup, bread, bananas, applesauce or cooked cereal
• do not consume spicy foods, vegetables, fruits, bran, milk or other dairy products, fried foods, candy or alcohol
• drink 8 to 12 glasses of liquid daily, to prevent dehydration through diarrhea or vomiting as the initial symptoms subside
• take non-aspirin medications (e.g., Tylenol/acetaminophen) for fever, headache and aches. Avoid aspirin and ibuprofen since these medications may irritate the gastrointestinal system

Please call Princeton University Health Services for questions, concerns and medical assistance at 258-3141 or 258-3139 24 hours a day for assistance.

Pamela Bowen, M.D., M.P.H.
Director, Princeton University Health Services