If you're here today, you fall into 1 of 3 categories:
- Your child just threw up. You suspect it's a bug and want to prevent it from spreading any further.
- The stomach bug has been going around in your child's school or daycare and you hope to avoid it.
- Your family has already been through a stomach bug this year and you'd do anything to keep it from ever returning.
Whatever the case, contracting a stomach virus ranks pretty high up on the list of things we all want to avoid. So, today we're going to uncover everything we know about the dreaded norovirus, including how to prevent it from spreading.
What is it?
Typically the first sign of a stomach bug is a bout of diarrhea or vomiting or both. It can also include stomach pain, fever, headache, nausea and cramping. Some refer to it as the "stomach flu," but it has nothing to do with the actual flu. It's really called gastroenteritis, meaning that your stomach and intestines are irritated and inflamed; it is usually caused by a viral or bacterial infection.
How do you get it?
There are several ways that a stomach bug can spread.
- Contact with someone who has the virus. Even just breathing the same air.
- Eating or drinking contaminated food or water.
- Ingesting infected fecal matter (by accident of course) as a result of not washing your hands after going to the bathroom or changing a diaper. Yuck!
What often happens with children is that one child has already had the virus and is still contagious (even if they don't look or act like it). That kid plays with your kid. While everyone seems to be having a good time, all those little germs make a beeline for everything your children are playing with, from the table they eat at to their toys. Finally, your child puts their fingers in their mouth (as all children seem to do) and boom, they're sick.
Unfortunately, the stomach bug is not one of those things that stays self-contained. In fact, it's incredibly contagious. It takes as little as 10 microscopic particles to make you sick. Furthermore, it can live on fabric or hard surfaces for up to 3 weeks. So, once one person has it, chances are that everyone else will get it too. That's why it seems to spread so quickly among daycares and schools.
How long is it contagious?
On the one hand, the virus is generally not contagious until the infected person shows symptoms (ex. the first bout of vomit). On the other hand, you are actively contagious for three days after the last bout of vomit or diarrhea, and can be contagious for up to two weeks after your symptoms have completely stopped. Of course, you can't hold yourself or your child hostage for two weeks, but you will have to become even more vigilant about washing your hands and disinfecting. You may also want to limit play dates for a couple of weeks to reduce other parents' ability to blame you for spreading disease.
How do you get rid of IT?!
We fully support using natural and organic cleaners for everyday use. However, when it comes to killing a stomach bug, the best line of defense is bleach (although Lysol and other cleaning products such as this one using Hydrogen Peroxide claim to be as effective - just read the label). Get a bottle of disinfectant designed to kill bacteria and viruses such as norovirus, rotavirus and the flu; or you can use an empty spray bottle and mix a 10:1 bleach solution. Then spray down everything in your home: floors, counter tops, sinks, toilets, etc. With your laundry (anything that has come into contact with poop or puke), wash on the hottest water you can for the longest cycle and then dry it on the highest setting your linens will allow. When you're done, do it all over again.
How do You Stop It?
(or at least prevent it from spreading)
1. Wash Your Hands
This should be a no-brainer, but wash your (you and your children) hands with SOAP after using the bathroom and before every meal. Do your best to keep your kids' hands out of their mouths. Once the stomach bug makes an appearance in your home, wash those hands even more.
2. Be Prepared
Before the stomach bug has a chance to make an appearance, prepare a survival kit for each of your bathrooms. Put the following items together:
- Plastic grocery sacks. You will put all sick person trash in these sacks. Be sure to take them outside immediately.
- Box of disposable gloves. Wear them every single time you touch anything (or anyone) that might have been contaminated. If it's disposable, trash it.
- Roll of paper towels. Put away your hand towels and use paper towels to dry hands and wipe down surfaces. Put it in your grocery sack when you're done.
- Bleach. As we discussed earlier, keep a heavy-duty, chemical-resistant spray bottle handy so that you can mix up some disinfecting spray.
- Face mask. This one might be overkill, but since the stomach bug is contagious as soon as it's airborne, you might as well do what you can to avoid getting it.
3. Keep Hydrated, Keep Nursing
Children, especially, can get dehydrated much faster than adults with a stomach bug. Therefore, it's important to push fluids if a stomach bug is threatening your family. On a similar note, if you are breastfeeding, continue to nurse even though your baby may not be able to hold it down for long. Your pediatrician may advice you to withhold any fluids for at least a half an hour between vomiting, so be sure to call your doctor. Babies who continue to breastfeed through an illness are much less likely to get dehydrated than those who are taken off the breast. It also provides your child with antibodies that are custom designed to prevent the illness from getting any worse, and may even shorten then length of time your child is sick. (source: Kelly Mom)
We fully realize that trying to quarantine a sick toddler is nearly impossible. That said, if you have more than one child, try to reduce the amount of interaction between your sick child and your healthy child. That includes meals. Don't allow your children to swap utensils, or share cups and food.
On a similar note, if you are trying to prevent the stomach bug from affecting other adults in your home (ex. husband) while you nurse your children back to health, you may encourage them to wear gloves and a mask when interacting with your sick children.
So that's it Mom. We surely hope you don't have to mess with a stomach virus this season. However, if you do, we hope today's advice prevents it from taking over your household. Keep those kids hydrated, obsessively wash your hands and be prepared for the worst!
Make sure you check out this post on 10 Ways to Keep Your Sick Child Busy.
This post is meant for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace medical advice from your physician, doctor or health care professional.