The stomach flu is not the flu!

Whether it’s referred to as arguing with the worms, calling the dinosaurs, or just plain throwing up, society can set aside their differences and come to full agreement on this topic: we all hate it.

 In fact, we hate it so much that whenever we hear a friend or family member say, “I have the stomach flu”, our first instinct is to bathe in disinfectant spray and rub our hands raw with sanitizer. 

Unfortunately, these tactics aren’t going to be of any help.

According to several health sites, the “stomach flu” isn’t the flu at all.  The correct term for the illness is Gastroenteritis (a.k.a. Norovirus) that only infects the digestive tract causing aggravated lining and inflammation that produces vomiting and diarrhea, and occasionally accompanied with a low-grade fever. 

This virus can only infect the body by ingestion and lasts between 24 to 72 hours. Influenza, on the other hand, is a respiratory virus that can be spread airborne, last anywhere between 3 to 7 days, produce alarming fevers that can be fatal.  

The norovirus is found in miniscule droplets of vomit and/or fecal matter and can be spread by toilet flushing or people who have not done proper hand-washing.  If a healthy individual happens to encounter the virus and eats something with his or her hands, the unfortunate process has just begun. 

Within 24 to 48 hours, the virus begins to grow and spread throughout the GI tract until the body has no choice but to get rid of it.  At this point, think of your stomach as an incubator.

So, what now?  What can you do to keep others from getting sick?  How can you prevent yourself from catching it again?  If you have been around someone who has it or if you’re starting to feel nauseous, you can take activated charcoal to drastically reduce symptoms, accelerate the recovery process, or even get rid of the virus before you marry your toilet.

Activated charcoal is a supplement made from coconut shell and is commonly known for absorbing harmful toxins inside the body.  It is also used in some cases for food and alcohol poisoning.  However, it is always important to talk to a doctor before consuming because it can absorb medications. 

If you do not have access to activated charcoal or you take other medications, the best and quickest way to recovery is rest.  Try to seclude yourself from other family members and use a separate bathroom if possible.  If you only have access to one bathroom, be sure to bleach the affected areas and keep toothbrushes and other oral items stored in a closed area where the virus cannot contaminate. 

Forgot to put them away?  It happened without warning?  Remove these items and place in mouthwash, such as Listerine, and let them soak for an hour followed by resting in hot salt water.  It is also important to drink plenty of clear fluids to prevent dehydration since losing bodily fluids is definite.  Try to sip on water or clear broths to keep up on vitamin intake and stay hydrated.  You can also drink sports drinks to replace electrolytes and may be easier to hold down than water.

It is also important to understand that even though you may feel a lot better the next day without any side effects, YOU ARE STILL CONTAGIOUS!  To keep friends, family, and colleagues safe, try your best to stay home from school and/or work for 2 full days. 

Small traces of the norovirus that are no longer affecting you are in your system for 48 hours, and it can cause others to get sick.  This is also a good time for you to slowly introduce daily activities while eating light foods, such as the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce and toast).  

After following the doctor’s orders, resting for a couple of days, regaining your strength and introducing solid food to your stomach, you’re in the clear for the rest of the year, right?  Wrong.  Norovirus is a hearty infection so if you have caught it once, you can catch it again.  However, in most cases, your body might be able to get rid of it a lot quicker than the first time, hopefully bypassing the dreadful symptoms. 

On the bright side, you can prevent yourself from catching it again the same year and even more in the future by taking certain precautions.  The first, most important step of all, is hand washing.  Try to wash them every chance you get with hot, soapy water, making sure to scrub between fingers and under the nails.  Although handwashing is extremely important, try to keep your fingers out of your mouth or eating with your hands when you have the option to use a fork or spoon. 

Once you have mastered the primary steps of keeping yourself germ-free, you can move on to tackling surface areas in your home and work area.  Remember when you read about the norovirus not getting enough credit for being stronger than the average germ?  Don’t let hand sanitizer and disinfectant sprays that say, “kills 99.9% of germs” fool you. 

To kill this nasty bug, you are going to need something a lot stronger than Purell and alcohol wipes.  In this scenario, bleach will be your best friend.  Mix a solution half bleach and half water to clean hard surfaces such as toilets, countertops, floors, and other infected areas and allow the area to airdry. 

If you had a family member pollute fabric furniture, however, there are certain products that you can find in stores to disinfect but choose wisely!  Read the back label under the virus column and make sure norovirus is listed.  A good product to use for couches and other furniture is Lysol maXcover, which can be found in any superstore cleaning department.  For work settings or for people who are not comfortable using bleach on surfaces, Clorox hydrogen peroxide wipes also kill the norovirus and will not stain or ruin household appliances.

Sometimes, no matter how hard we try to stay healthy and follow health procedures like sacred laws, we get sick anyway.  When the stomach flu hits, just acknowledge that it could always be worse: you could’ve ended up with the actual flu.  Just remember that there is no harm in being prepared and an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  Stay healthy!