Stomach Flu Facts Every Parent Should Know
Here are some things that you as a parent should know about the stomach flu.
Stomach Flu is not the Flu
First the Stomach flu, medically known as Gastroenteritis is not the same thing as the Flu known medically as influenza. This means that even if you had your flu shots which help to prevent you from getting the influenza virus you are not protected from getting the Stomach Flu.
What causes the stomach flu?
The stomach flu that hits in the winter time is caused by the Norwalk virus. This is one of many viruses that causes Gastroenteritis. Gastroenteritis is a general term that refers to vomiting and diarrhea. The thing that makes the stomach flu (Norwalk virus) different from other forms of Gastroenteritis is that its mostly vomiting and without diarrhea, and that it hits primarily in the winter.
How contagious is it?
The next important fact about the Norwalk virus is that it is extremely contagious. If one family member has it then chances are very high that other family members will get it.
The virus is transmitted person to person. This means that if you have it you could easily pass it to your child either by kissing them or holding their hands and then by them touching their hands to their mouths.
According to the Merck manual, it could take anywhere between 4 hours to 72 hours until the symptoms appear.
For how long is someone contagious?
Once you have the symptoms you become contagious for up to 72 hours. The minimum amount of time that you are contagious after you stop having symptoms, i.e. vomiting, is 24 hours. That means that if you vomited at night but feel great the next day you are still contagious and you can easily pass on the virus to others.
This part is really important for parents. If your child got the virus and finished her vomiting episodes at 11pm, she is still contagious for the next 24 hours. That means that even if she feels fine you should not send her to school the next morning. She should stay at home and go to school the following day.
How do I know when my child’s symptoms have stopped?
In my experiences, there are anywhere between two to five episodes of vomiting with about an hour in between each episode. If you child has already vomited three times over the course of three hours and several hours have passed since the last episode then chances are your child’s has stopped vomiting and the worst is over.
Are there any other concerns or health issues that I should be aware of?
Dehydration is the most serious complication that results from the stomach flu because of the loss of so much fluids. Because children are at much higher risk of suffering from dehydration than adults, parents need to make sure that their child has constant fluid intake.
What should my child drink?
The best thing for your child would be a drink that contains the right balance of salt and sugar to replace the loss of essential elements needed for the body to function properly. Electrolyte beverages such as Pedialyte, Gatorade, or Powerade will provide these elements. There is actually a difference of opinion between the Merck manual and the Mayo Clinic. The Merck Manual says to avoid sport drinks whereas the Mayo Clinic actually recommends them. I have heard from a couple of doctors that sports drinks are good for children to drink.
Believe it or not, Kool-Aid is a good alternative if you don’t have any of those beverages readily available. This is because unlike water Kool-Aid contains both sugar and salt ingredients. Just make sure to dilute it a bit so that its not at its usual level of sweetness. Water, on the other hand, is not the best drink of choice because it lacks essential elements. Of course its better than giving your child nothing. If you do give your child water have him/her drink small sips at a time instead of large gulps. Consuming large amounts of water at a time can lead to more nausea.
Some drinks to avoid:
What can my child eat?
Once your child has overcome the vomiting you can start feeding him/her foods that are easier for their stomach to tolerate. Follow this mnemonic to help you remember what they can eat:
B – bananas
R – rice
A – applesauce
T – toast
How to avoid spreading the virus
Whenever you come in contact with someone infected with the Norwalk virus you should wash you hands with anti-bacterial soap creating a nice lather for fifteen seconds. Another option would be to have Purell or similar product in the house so that you can just squirt on your hands and rub until it dries.
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