Stomach Flu--What you should know




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Stomach Flu Facts:
  • Symptoms are vomiting and diarrhea. It is caused by viruses. (Norovirus and rotavirus are common culprits.) It is technically called viral gastroenteritis and is not really a flu. It is not related to influenza (the real flu). The flu shot does NOT protect against the stomach flu.
  • Sometimes referred to as “stomach virus”, “norovirus”, “stomach bug”, “24 hour bug”, “stomach flu”, “intestinal virus”, and “winter vomiting disease”. It is NOT "the flu". 
  • Millions of viruses are in poop, vomit, and possibly nasal secretions and saliva of a sick person.
  • Illness is spread when a few of these viruses get into someone else's mouth.
  • It usually takes 24-72 hours to get sick after you have swallowed the virus. Sometimes it takes a full week or even a little longer.
  • A person is contagious (still producing viruses) for at least 3 days AFTER symptoms have stopped.
  • Stay away from other people as much as possible while you are contagious and don’t prepare food for anyone else if possible.
  • If you or your child is sick with vomiting or diarrhea, do not prepare food or snacks for other people. (It is not a good time to bring a snack for the class or bake cookies for a sports team.) If you work in food service, DO NOT go to work. 
  • Children should stay home from school or daycare for 48 hours after the last bout of vomiting. 48 hours is the minimum time it takes to make sure symptoms are over. (There can be a relapse of vomiting after 24 hours and the diarrhea sometimes doesn’t start for 24-48 hours after the vomiting). Ideally they should stay home until they have eaten normally for a full day. That often takes longer than 48 hours. Don't send the child to school for at least 24 hours after the last bout of diarrhea. 
  • If you or your children have just recovered from a stomach bug, do not go to unnecessary public places (movies, pools, restaurants, indoor playgrounds) or play dates at someone else's house until all have been well for a full week. 
  • The viruses can live for weeks on household surfaces. Clean with chlorine bleach (a 5%-10% solution of household bleach in water is good.) Bleach breaks down so it is best if the bottle of bleach has been opened for less than 3 months. Clorox clean-up with bleach is also a good choice. Clorox Hydrogen Peroxide Wipes or Clorox Hydrogen Peroxide Spray (great for carpet) are great. The Regular Clorox® wipes and Lysol® wipes from the grocery, including Lysol Power and Free Hydrogen Peroxide Wipes store DO NOT claim to kill these viruses
  • Since the viruses live so long on household surfaces, don't have company to your house until all have been well for 2 weeks. If you do have company, give them a warning. Don't go to someone else's house who has been sick with a stomach bug for 2 weeks unless you have a few pounds that you'd like to lose. 
  • School nurses should not send children who "don't feel good" back to class. Children with stomach bugs frequently don't have a fever and vomiting in the middle of class will put the other students at high risk.
  • Never visit someone at a nursing home or hospital until you have been well for 2 weeks after a stomach bug.
  • Wash your hands frequently. Wash when you get home from work or school. Wash before you eat or prepare food. Teachers should insist that all children wash their hands before lunch and snack. Many elementary school teachers do not do this. 
  • Only a few hand sanitizers have been tested and kill norovirus. Clorox Hand Sanitizer, Zylast Antiseptic, and Germstar Noro  are my favorites. Zylast did the best in my experiments against bacteria.
  • Freezing does NOT kill these viruses. Boiling and cooking to 180 degrees Fahrenheit do kill them.  
  • Read this page of my website if you want to learn the difference between a stomach bug and food poisoning.

I know some of you will be upset that I refer to viral gastroenteritis as the "stomach flu". Yes, I know that it is not a real flu and is not related to influenza. What I didn't realize was how ANGRY some people would get when I call it "the stomach flu". Influenza is primarily a respiratory illness BUT often causes vomiting and diarrhea. Stomach bugs can also cause headache, fever, and aches. So, lots of people won't know for sure if they have influenza or a stomach bug. However, all of the advice and tips that I give to avoid getting and spreading the stomach flu are also applicable to influenza. If someone is vomiting from influenza, they should stay home from school, too. So, calling viral gastroenteritis the stomach flu, isn't really hurting anything. I want to "Stop the Stomach Flu" and stop influenza. Instead of the "flu" in Stomach Flu referring to influenza, think of it as referring to the sentence "the contents of my stomach flew out both ends". 

--Annie Pryor, Ph.D.


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Anne Pryor,
Dec 13, 2014, 12:58 PM