It’s the virus everyone dreads — upset stomach, cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea. Often called “the flu,” it is actually not the flu at all. These symptoms usually mean you have gastroenteritis or norovirus, an infection that typically passes within 24-48 hours without serious complications. Its highly contagious nature allows it to spread like wildfire in close quarters such as daycare centers, nursing homes, and cruise ships.
Despite its short-lived symptoms, it can cause a miserable few days. So what can you do alleviate symptoms or better yet, avoid getting it in the first place? Although it’s nearly impossible to avoid it all the time, there are many things you can do to minimize your risk of getting it or to get better quickly if you’re sick. Some good strategies include:
- Wash your hands. This is the most important thing you can do to avoid gastroenteritis and many other viruses that you are exposed to. Soap, water, and scrubbing for 30 seconds before you eat or touch your face and after using the bathroom will keep you healthier than any other strategy. Hand sanitizer generally will not kill gastroenteritis, so only use it when you cannot get to a sink with soap.
- Use bleach to clean up thoroughly when someone is sick. If someone in your home gets sick, use bleach to clean up bathrooms and other surfaces they might have touched. The tiny virus particles can float in the air, landing on nearby surfaces that don’t appear to be soiled. The general recommendation is to use two cups of bleach per gallon of water, washing all affected surfaces. Many disinfectants you buy in the store will not kill norovirus, so bleach is best. Wear cleaning gloves and change the washcloths frequently.
- If you get sick, do your best to stay away from others and do not go to work. Preparing food while you’re sick, whether at home or in a restaurant, puts those who eat the food at high risk of getting the virus. Some restaurants have policies on how long you must stay home if you have symptoms of gastroenteritis. Even if you are able to go to work, stay home and avoid others while you have symptoms.
- Once you can hold down fluids, try an oral rehydration solution, usually available at your pharmacy, or clear fluids or ice chips. Start with only small sips every few minutes until you are sure you can keep it down. Drinking too much, too quickly, even if you’re thirsty, can cause more vomiting.
If you’re still feeling sick after 24 hours, or you have symptoms that concern you, call your physician. Young children, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems are at highest risk for complications from gastroenteritis. Watch for signs of dehydration, such as no urine after eight hours, dry mouth, no tears, rapid breathing, or skin that loses its elasticity.
Primary Care at CarePoint Health
Having a primary care physician on your side is an important part of leading a healthy lifestyle. He or she can guide your preventive care and help you manage illness. To find a skilled primary care physician at CarePoint Health, please contact us.