We’ve all been there, unfortunately.
A few stomach rumblings turn into a bout of being holed up on the couch with a bucket for emergencies, unable to function like normal for at least 24 hours. The cold weather has brought a resurgence in the norovirus, a stomach virus similar to the stomach flu but with a higher intensity, over the past few weeks. With the winter forcing many indoors, it’s hard to avoid and even more rampant in daycares, schools and crowded public places, such as mall playgrounds.
If you’re a parent, or expecting, the fear is two fold: how do I avoid the virus with my children exposed?, and how do I care for them/myself when it hits home?
It’s important to understand the ways norovirus is spread, how to best treat its symptoms, and how to make sure you and your family are safely on the mend quickly.
How is norovirus spread?
Norovirus, a contagious strain of the stomach flu, is spread through contact with contagious substances, such as vomit, diarrhea and stool (think changing an exposed child’s diaper) or eating or drinking substances exposed to someone infected with the virus.
A person exposed is contagious from the moment they start exerting symptoms; nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle aches and pain, fever and chills, until 24-48 hours after the symptoms abate. Symptoms can come on suddenly or a few days after being exposed, making it hard to pinpoint where or when you come in contact with the virus.
How do I treat myself when I get sick?
Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent or ‘cure’ the norovirus; the best prescription is rest. You can aid your recovery and prevent a major problem for many sick with norovirus - dehydration - by slowly introducing electrolytes and liquids to your system. Most doctors recommend the 1 hour rule: as soon as bouts of vomiting and diarrhea have subsided for an hour, slowly reintroduce liquids back to your system to avoid dehydration.
The best liquid for your sensitive stomach and for restoring essential nutrients is Gatorade. Stock up ahead of time this flu season on a flavor you can easily handle, and sip it in small amounts. Ginger ale may help settle the stomach, but sometimes can be too sugary or act as an irritant, so use sparingly.
After handling liquids well, move on to foods, but slowly. Following the B.R.A.T. diet of bananas, rice, applesauce and toast allows the stomach to heal itself and easily digest the restored nutrients your system needs for recovery. Care providers stress following this diet for at least 24 hours after the last bout of sickness to allow your body to properly care for itself in the case of a relapse in symptoms later on.
These methods are crucial for susceptible patients, such as those pregnant or small children, to avoid hospitalization for dehydration symptoms. If you or your child suspect you are suffering from severe dehydration and require hospital assistance, do not hesitate to contact your provider, especially if once assuming a Gatorade and B.R.A.T. diet, you or your child cannot keep anything down.
How do I prevent the spread to other family members - and prevent reinfecting/infecting myself?
Once the sickness has moved on from a family member, many wait in dread for another to fall ill. This was the case during the holiday season in my own family; once one family member started to feel better, a day later another got sick, then another two days later, until the entire family had passed the virus to each other!
Here are some of the things that we have done to prepare and be cautious of reinfection:
Keep children home from daycare, school, playdates and public play areas for at least 48 hours after the final symptoms have vanished.
Replace toothbrushes to avoid reinfection, and sterilize commonly used items such as drinking glasses and sippy cups.
Wash sheets and towels after final illness exposure has abated.
Clean commonly touched surfaces, such as computers, remotes, door handles, sink handles, etc. with bleach disinfecting wipes. Look for labels in stores that say ‘kills cold/flu virus’.
Use disposable paper hand towels for washing hands to prevent spread of germs during cold and flu season.
During the illness, line a pail or bowl with several liners. After each bout of sickness, you can easily lift the top liner and a fresh one is ready for the next round without having to touch the bowl or infect yourself.
I hope these tips help keep everyone happy and healthy as we head into the heart of winter, and with it, cold and flu season!