It always seems like this time of year brings the stomach flu along with all of the other viruses floating around in public. But there are simple things you can do to prevent yourself from getting sick, and there are natural and healthy ways to ensure you feel better faster if you do come down with this nasty bug.
What is the stomach flu?
The stomach flu, also known as gastroenteritis, is an infection of the intestines. The viruses responsible for this illness are often the norovirus and the rotavirus. The symptoms of the stomach flu include nausea, vomiting, watery diarrhea, a low-grade fever, and abdominal pain. Usually, these symptoms subside in less than two days or even 24 hours in some cases. The Mayo Clinic suggests contacting a doctor if vomiting has persisted for more than two days, there’s bloody diarrhea, you have vomited blood, or have a fever about 104. All of these can be signs of a more severe infection, one not caused by the norovirus or rotavirus.
Noroviruses: Both children and adults are affected by noroviruses, the most common cause of foodborne illness worldwide. Norovirus infection can sweep through families and communities. It’s especially likely to spread among people in confined spaces. In most cases, you pick up the virus from contaminated food or water, although person-to-person transmission also is possible.
Rotavirus: Worldwide, this is the most common cause of viral gastroenteritis in children, who are usually infected when they put their fingers or other objects contaminated with the virus into their mouths. The infection is most severe in infants and young children. Adults infected with rotavirus may not have symptoms, but can still spread the illness — of particular concern in institutional settings because infected adults unknowingly can pass the virus to others.
Stomach flu spreads easily!
You can be infected by either the norovirus or the rotavirus by sharing utensils with an infected person, drinking contaminated water or eating contaminated food. You could also become infected if you use the towel of a sick person.
What to do if you become sick?
If you are an adult, you’ll want to avoid infecting others and take care to not get anyone else sick. If someone in your home has viral gastroenteritis, disinfect hard surfaces, such as counters, faucets, and doorknobs, with a mixture of 2 cups (0.47 liters) of bleach to 1 gallon (3.8 liters) of water. Wash their bedsheets with bleach if possible. Many websites and medical professionals suggest isolating a sick family member. Recently, my son got the stomach flu, and because he’s a little boy, we did not isolate him in his room. We let him sleep on the couch and watch movies all day. Sometimes, depending on which family member is sick, isolation is not possible or conducive to household morale. We gave him a large bowl in case he needed to vomit and after it was rinsed out, we made sure to thoroughly wash our hands and we kept all other kids away from him. Once he healed up, a quick disinfectant spray on the couch did the trick and no one else got sick. Encourage plenty of rest if you or your little one get sick!
Make sure that you try to stay hydrated. Often, water won’t even stay down during the stomach flu, but try munching on ice chips to get some hydration. Avoid diuretics such as coffee, black (caffeinated) tea, and alcohol.
Make a ginger peppermint tea. Both ginger and peppermint are known to calm stomach inflammation and promote digestion by relieving nausea and vomiting. To make mint tea, simply take a few fresh mint leaves and boil them in some water and strain the infusion. For an extra boost, grate some fresh ginger root (about 1/2 teaspoon as it’s a strong flavor) and stir it into your boiled mint mixture. The tea is a natural way to soothe an upset stomach and hopefully put a little water back into the body.
Although there is a vaccine for the rotavirus, there is not one for the norovirus (It is still undergoing tests). But simple hygiene can help prevent both of these viruses. Wash your hands before you eat. If washing is not available, use hand sanitizer liquid or sanitizing wipes and make sure your children do too. Teach good handwashing habits after using the bathroom, especially in public places. It’s best to use warm water and soap and to rub hands vigorously for at least 20 seconds, remembering to wash around cuticles, beneath fingernails and in the creases of the hands. Then rinse thoroughly. You should also:
- Wash all fruits and vegetables and thoroughly cook seafood before eating.
- People who begin to feel ill should avoid involvement in food preparations for others.
- Wipe shopping cart handles before use with sanitizing wipes.
- Use a dishwasher instead of handwashing.
Hopefully, just minor and simple changes will have you and your family staying healthy all winter long. And if you do get sick, remember, the stomach flu is short lived and you should be back at it in no time! If you are ill for longer than two days, seek medical attention.
*This article is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any illness. If you have questions or concerns you should speak to a medical or healthcare professional.