4 Tips for Preventing the Stomach Flu (And what to do when you get it anyhow)

by Charlotte on January 3, 2013 · 44 comments

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I wish.

Crouched low over the bathtub, I laid my head against the cool wall as I switched the blowdryer to my other hand, careful to keep the hot air trained on a small, nubby, once-blue, now-damp baby blanket. “Are you done yet?” I heard my husband call over the sound of our son hiccup-crying in his arms. Crying because he’s two and can’t sleep without his precious “snuvy”. Snuvy was currently MIA, even though it was the middle of the night and the usual sleeping time for most humans (although children are notoriously flagrant breakers of that rule), because it had been puked all over. Along with everything else in a three-foot radius – it’s hard to appreciate the explosive power of projectile vomiting until you’ve seen it in all its geyser-like glory. And because our stupid dryer had broken the week before I was left rinsing out the lovey in the bathtub and drying it with my hair dryer. As I contemplated how much my life sucked at that moment, I heard the too-familiar sound of coughing, retching, and the splatter of puke on the wall, bed, floor. It was our other son, trying to top his brother’s impressive splash zone (always so competitive those two!), now also crying.

Our two boys, aged 2 and almost 1 at the time, had been puking for 4 days straight. And not just vomiting but also had so much diarrhea that when we picked up the baby out of his crib he squished, the bodily fluids oozing out of the neck and arm holes of his fire-retardant-hence-water-retaining jammies. We eventually gave up on jammies altogether. Nothing was clean despite us making near constant trips to the 24-hour laundromat down the street. There was hardly any food in the house. I was lost in a hazy sleepless cycle of barfing and cleaning. Lather, rinse, repeat – literally. It was the only time in my life where a string bikini really would have been the most practical wardrobe option. I could have dried one of those suckers in 2 minutes flat with a hair dryer. Unlike the 30 minutes or so it took for a blankey.

The whole ordeal ended up lasting over two weeks, culminating in two trips to the ER, a missed first birthday party and hours of me crawling around bleaching every surface that could be touched by a curious toddler (which was all of them) on a daily basis. Oh and did I mention my husband and I both got it too? It was norovirus. It was horrific.

I hold onto that fun little parenting memory because now every time one of our kids throws up, I take comfort in the fact that at least it’s not as bad as the Pukefest of 2004. Tonight, for instance, as I comforted a puke-covered Jelly Bean with one hand and tried to wipe vomit off the back of my neck with a wet wipe with the other hand, I actually smiled. Because at least we had a working washer and dryer and clean set of jammies to change her into. And at least she’s the only one throwing up (knock on wood). She’s now tucked soundly – for the time being – back into a clean bed. I was asleep. Now I’m awake. And thinking, naturally, about how to stay puke-free myself since I was obviously just contaminated – albeit in the most loving way possible. Something about kids makes it impossible for them to throw up alone, they must do it near – or preferably on – mom.

Everyone knows that if you get a virus or bacteria that makes you sick then you get sick, end of story, right? Yet some people seem to get sick a lot less than others despite being subjected to the same biological warfare as the rest of us. So what gives? Are there ways to keep yourself from getting the stomach flu? It turns out there are.

1. Eat your probiotics. Yogurt is full of bacteria but it’s the good kind that your stomach needs to combat the bad kind that makes it want to turn itself inside out in your toilet. The latest research shows that not only can probiotics help stop vomiting and diarrhea 1-3 days earlier but that they can also help prevent colds and improve the body’s response to the flu vaccine. Children given probiotics missed fewer days from daycare due to stomach flu than children who got a placebo (although the AAP notes that more research needs to be done and hence official recommendations can’t be made yet). To reap maximum benefits, avoid yogurts with a lot of added flavoring, colors and sugars as all of those things can exacerbate an irritated gut. Personally I like eating plain, whole yogurt (goat’s milk, these days) but some people hate it. Don’t worry, you have other fragrantly fermented options with which to fortify your stomach! Kefir, kimchi and sauerkraut are all also good. Although I don’t know many people who dislike yogurt but love kimchi. Eh, there are always the probiotic pills. They work so well for stomach upset, especially in kids, that I keep a jar in our fridge at all times.

I interrupt this highly (non) important message to tell you that I just had to take 20 minutes off to hold Jelly Bean over the garbage can while she blew chunks and then rock her back to sleep. I wish I could go back to sleep. But I have to wait for her blanket to finish drying so you’re stuck with me for another 23 minutes. Let’s see how much research I can dig up before the bell dings. Insomnia: the family game!

2. Stay hydrated inside and out. One of the reasons people get sick more in the winter is because dehydrated skin means more tiny cracks which means your body’s largest organ and best immune system defense is compromised. While you can’t change the weather you can drink extra fluids, protect your skin from cold weather and use extra lotion. Also, sadly, long, hot showers are not your friend as they dry out your skin too. On the inside, upping your fluid intake makes sure your body has all the H2o it needs to run properly.

3. Stress less. Cortisol, the “stress hormone”, works partially by suppressing your immune system. When you’re in a true crisis that’s a good thing but constant stress over time just hangs a “vacancy!” sign over the germ motel of your body. Meditate, take a walk outside, surf for craft ideas on Pinterest that you love but know you will never do which will then make you bitter about people who have so much time they can craft individual likenesses of party-goers out of fondant on top of gluten-free cupcakes. You know, whatever relaxes you.

4. Wash your stinking hands already. Part of me wonders if this stomach bug was acquired from one of Jelly Bean’s dozens of trips to public bathrooms the past few weeks. I always help her wash her hands afterward, even if she doesn’t pee, but I’m not gonna lie: after the 15th visit to the Target bathroom in one hour, I get a little rushed with the soap routine. Mom guilt… But anyhow, we’re all grown-ups! So wash your hands! A lot! Especially after using the toilet, cooking, riding public transportation or helping clean up a haz-mat spill.

And if these tips don’t work and you still get sick? Jelly Bean would like you to know that clenching your teeth and trying to hold the vomit in doesn’t work. Just makes it come out of your nose. Also a bad plan – drinking red juice, eating grapes and letting the cat lip-kiss you at dinner. And on that note, I’m going to say a prayer to the moms-can’t-get-sick saint and go to bed. Here’s hoping no one else gets this!

Do you have any suggestions for preventing the stomach flu? Seriously I’ll try anything short of voodoo. Maybe even voodoo as long as shrunken heads aren’t involved… Do you do anything special when you get it to help feel better? Have I convinced any of you to never ever have children yet??

{ 44 comments… read them below or add one }

Sybil January 3, 2013 at 1:30 am

Great advice! I think the biggest thing, fortunately or unfortunately, is your genetics. I can count on one hand how many times I have had the stomach flu in my life and I do nothing different. My husband is a reluctant hand washer and rides public transportation and gets sick less than anyone in the family! It is crazy, but we are lucky. Our kids are on the low average side for getting any illness. They haven’t missed a day of school yet this year for being sick. Anyways, all I am trying to say is that sometimes this stuff is just part of who we are and doing or not doing special things wont affect it that much.

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Charlotte January 5, 2013 at 11:47 pm

Ah good point! My kids seem to stay relatively healthy so here’s hoping they got the good genes too!

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Bri March 6, 2014 at 4:40 pm

Gah I’m just so worried, my 12 year old told me her friend she was sitting next to felt sick then (thankfully) when she did vomit my daughter wasn’t near her but I’m not sure I HATE vomit I hope she doesn’t get the virus is been going around in her school :(

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Morgan January 3, 2013 at 2:25 am

Um, this post is my birth control for the day.

So sorry for Jelly Bean and you!! I remember waking up one night with a stomach bug when I was very young and immediately walking to my parent’s room to tell my mom (why not my dad, who was also right there? It’s just a mom situation, you’re right about that) before vomming all over her rug. Ohhhh, that was such a miserable night, sleeping next to the toilet.

My only recommendation for avoiding illness is a few drops of Oregonal under the tongue and 5000% the daily recommended portion of vitamin C taken periodically throughout the day. When everyone in my office is sick, this duo usually keeps me well, although this method failed me recently when it went up against Holiday Travel as I spent the last two weeks sick whilst traveling throughout Texas and Nevada. Ugh.

Sending lots of healthy, soothing thoughts your way!

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Charlotte January 5, 2013 at 11:49 pm

Oooh thank you SO much for the tip on the oregano. I’ve never tried that but I was recently reading some research about how it’s now being fed to chickens as a way to boost their immune systems without feeding them antibiotics. Very cool.

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Jess January 3, 2013 at 6:52 am

I have the stomach flu right now so I can relate. I’m grateful it is me and not the kids sick. The first time the twins got a stomach bug was really bad (although nothing on your story). Still it lasted a week and they literally threw up in unison every time and usually all over me!

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Charlotte January 5, 2013 at 11:50 pm

I dunno – twins with the flu sounds like a nightmare to me! And if you’re really lucky the next time your washer will break too;)

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Naomi/Dragonmamma January 3, 2013 at 7:31 am

Last time I barfed is when my kids were toddlers; that would be about 20 years ago. Thank goodness; I hate barfing!

I violate the water-drinking and hands-washing rules all the time. I work at the Y, and there’s no way I can wash my hands after touching germy surfaces, or else I’d be washing up hundreds of times a day.

People freak out when they see me exercise and stretch on the floor instead of rolling out a mat, but I fail to see why a damp, rolled-up mat is more sterile than the floor, even if you do give it a three-second swipe with a sprayed rag. At least the floor is aired out, even if people have been walking around with crud on their shoes.

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Alyssa (azusmom) January 4, 2013 at 12:14 am

Those communal mats at gyms are NASTY!!!!! At least the floors get cleaned. The mats never do.

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Charlotte January 5, 2013 at 11:51 pm

I agree with both you and Alyssa! I don’t use mats either! I always just stretch out on the floor. I actually prefer wood floors since I figure they harbor less germs and are more easily cleaned than carpet or rubber;)

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Cbuffy January 3, 2013 at 7:50 am

I’m a “reluctant hand washer” myself… I live on a mini-farm, so I make sure to wash my hands when I come inside, but otherwise, the best defense against germs is your own body. But I DO second the Oil of Oregano when you are sick. I combine it with my fave Vit D3. SEVERAL times a day (but only when sick – oregano is a powerful antibiotic, so you need to UP the probiotics when you are better…). Last year when everyone around me was down for the count for a full 2 weeks, I got it, BAD, but was up and at ‘em a short 3 days later. Probiotics, D3, hydrate hydrate hydrate, daily liposomal vitamin C, and “try” to get a good night’s sleep every night. (HA!) That’s my recipe…

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Charlotte January 5, 2013 at 11:53 pm

Thank you so much for the oregano tip too! I’ve never heard that one before but the research totally supports it too. Off to google “liposomal” vit C now! You’re always such a wealth of info when it comes to supps!!

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Abby January 3, 2013 at 9:41 am

My mom likes to bring out the story of when my 5 year-old self told her I wasn’t feeling well. She was lying on the couch, extremely pregnant, and told me to come over so she could feel my forehead (thermometer hands!). When I did I threw up all over her and the couch, but mostly her. Pretty sure she’s dying to tell this story at my wedding!

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Charlotte January 5, 2013 at 11:54 pm

But did you get it in her mouth? Because that’s 10 extra points right there for aim and style! ;)

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R January 3, 2013 at 9:55 am

The vomit story reminded me of my terrible stomach flu this past spring (but no projectile vomiting! that sounds even worse!!!). Ugh. Stomach flus suckkkk. I’ll have to try probiotics next time, after I can start to keep things down!

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Charlotte January 5, 2013 at 11:55 pm

Yeah, except I wouldn’t say the flu “sucks”, I’d say it “blows” ;) Oh I love a pun.

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Amy H. January 3, 2013 at 10:26 am

Luckily, I do not get the stomach flu often. In fact, I have had it exactly twice in the last 15 years (not counting pregnancy flu). (When I do get sick, it’s always sinus stuff.) My son has only had the flu about 3 times, too. Unfortunately for him, I’m a “sympathy” puker, meaning if I see someone else puke, I immediately do, too. Therefore, my poor hubby usually ends up doing the flu rounds, as his stomach is much stronger for that type of thing.

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Charlotte January 5, 2013 at 11:56 pm

Thankfully I’m not a sympathetic puker! Although I really don’t do well with the sight of blood…

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Geosomin January 3, 2013 at 10:33 am

Since micro lab training I’ve got 2 cardinal rules: Wash your hands long enough (as long as it takes to sing happy birthday), wash your food well and don’t touch your hands to your mouth. Ever. This has made a HUGE difference in my health. I also get my flu shot and take Cold FX whenever my husband has a cold or flu to help my immune system (like now) since I have asthma. Sometimes I’m a sucker and forget and kiss my sickly husband and then all bets are off, but other than that…well, you’d be amazed how just washing your hands can make a difference. The catch is making sure you use enough hand cream that they don’t get cracked and chapped…since that kinda defeats the whole purpose really…

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Geosomin January 3, 2013 at 10:35 am

heh…that’s three not two…:)

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Charlotte January 5, 2013 at 11:58 pm

So I was just reading through these comments with my hand over my mouth (resting on my chin, not trying to gag myself). Um, oops! And I forget and kiss my sickie husband and kids too;)

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Nicholle January 3, 2013 at 10:55 am

Norovirus is nasty–I’ve had it twice and got it at work both times (the first time, it was tracked to our water cooler. When I called in sick, the receptionist said, “You’re the 17th person to call in today.” Over half our staff of about 30 were ill and some needed to be hospitalized. No joke.
When I was younger, I shared a room with my sister. For some reason, we were both pukers and we had a pink plastic garbage can between our beds that became the puke bucket. It was convenient and at least contained the vomit for our poor mom. She’s a nurse and has a strong stomach when it comes to other people’s body fluids.

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Charlotte January 5, 2013 at 11:59 pm

My mom’s a nurse too! I’ve often thought that would be the handiest degree to have as a mom… if I wasn’t such a wuss when it comes to blood!

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Kim January 3, 2013 at 5:31 pm

This post made me laugh and sort-of cringe at the same time. I’m sorry that you are dealing with a sickie (or maybe more now?). I agree with all of your tips. I also read years ago that some people are far more prone to stomach related viruses. Thankfully, our family doesn’t seem to be – personally, I don’t believe in puking and will do whatever it takes to prevent it.
Good luck getting rid of it in your home!

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Charlotte January 6, 2013 at 12:00 am

Haha, this: “personally, I don’t believe in puking and will do whatever it takes to prevent it.” is officially my new motto! And thankfully I don’t seem to be prone to stomach flu.

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redhead January 3, 2013 at 6:50 pm

Poor Charlotte! When I was little my mom would always hear us throwing up and come out of her room to take care of us (at least that’s how I remember it…) Maybe she trained herself so we’d stay out of her room!
I don’t think I’ve ever had a true flu since I’ve been an adult. Bad colds from time, and occasionally a stomach thing that lasts less than 24 hours (and, I’ll confess, hangovers at some points). OJ also works for me once I’m sick, whether it’s stomach or not – I know it seems counter-intuitive with the acid, but it does!

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Charlotte January 6, 2013 at 12:01 am

I love me some fresh-squeezed OJ! We’ll just call it good for my immune system and I’ll get right on it:)

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Gaye January 3, 2013 at 8:10 pm

Major yuck. I remember when my kids were little and had the stomache flu and were vomiting everywhere, I just waited for their heads to spin around like in the Exorcist. Last week my husband had a bug and I followed him around the house with the Lysol. It worked! No one else in the house got it! Victory!

Thanks for the post!
Gaye

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Charlotte January 6, 2013 at 12:03 am

Victory, indeed!!! And this: ” I just waited for their heads to spin around like in the Exorcist. ” totally made me giggle.

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Nate January 3, 2013 at 11:44 pm

Don’t knock Voodoo. It works for me.

Otherwise – what you said, they are great tips. Also, good sleep as a weary body is less willing to fight.

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Charlotte January 6, 2013 at 12:03 am

Ooh good call on the sleep! (Says the girl blogging at midnight… oops). But I don’t know, I’m still iffy on the voodoo;)

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Gena January 4, 2013 at 7:52 am

I’ll throw in my 2 cents here, as someone who actually studied influenza for 3 years!

Best way to prevent it? Get your flu shot! I know, you can get the shot and still get the flu, but the chances are about 1-2 in 100,000. Pretty good odds, if you ask me. And the vaccine is far more effective than any over the counter medications out there.

Second, like you say, Charlotte, good hygiene is a must! And, if you do come down with something, stay home! Don’t tough it out at work – all you are doing is infecting more people and creating a drain on your workplace and the economy. Seriously. Millions and millions of dollars are sucked out of the economy each year when people call in sick to work. So limit your illness to yourself (and likely anyone who lives with you).

Third, and this is nitpicking, really. There is no such thing as the stomach flu. Influenza is inactivated by the acidic pH of the stomach, and is not able to infect any cells in there. There is a GI distress component of influenza, but it is primarily a respiratory infection. If you are only suffering GI problems, it’s likely not influenza at all.

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Charlotte January 6, 2013 at 12:05 am

Love all your tips Gena! We always all get the flu mist at our house. And true about “stomach flu” being a misnomer. My mom’s a nurse and corrects me on that too. I’m not sure what else to call it though? A case of the pukies?

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Sylvie @ StruggleswithaFatA January 4, 2013 at 9:26 am

Hope you stay healthy! Unless you can manage to vomit rainbows … that might be worth getting sick just to see that.

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Charlotte January 6, 2013 at 12:05 am

Buwhahah! Well if I do I’ll send you a pic;)

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Erin Deniz January 4, 2013 at 2:16 pm

I never thought of dry, cracked skin as a way for the nasty yuckies to get in, but it makes perfect sense. The skin is the largest organ. Great tip about staying moisturized during cold and flu season.

Best “Me and the kids are all sick at once” memory; crashing into bed with my then 1 year old (at that time he was the baby of three) just as my mother in law walked in the door to tend to the four of us sickies. Both my son and I were covered in a combination of breast milk and electric blue Pedialyte.

I found, during that whole experience, that double diapering (I used disposables) really helped when my baby had the mega-squirts. The second diaper worked as overflow parking. If it managed not to get too blown out then it could become the new first layer of diaper. It helped greatly with clean up.

Great post. Hope everyone gets better and stays that way!

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Charlotte January 6, 2013 at 12:06 am

Thankfully my diaper days are behind me now (woooohoooo!) but your double-diaper tip is brilliant. Sometimes we’d do that for night wetting too. What is it about night peeing that makes it seem like so much more than day pee??

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Rob January 9, 2013 at 1:42 pm

Ugh, stomach bugs are the worst!! So disgusting! I like everybodys ideas, though! It’s been several years since I’ve had any kind of flu, but I’ve heard some people say ginger helps a little with an upset stomach (raw crystalized ginger).

Also, if you have a gastrointestinal virus, drink Gatorade! It’s likely you won’t be eating during the first 24 hours, so drink Gatorade if you can. It’s got electrolytes in it which are important. If vomiting continues after 24 hrs, call your doctor ASAP! Dehydration is a very serious and life threatening matter!

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Amanda March 1, 2013 at 9:23 am

Holy schnikeys, thanks to periodic norovirus outbreaks over the past six years and me always being the one on barf cleanup, I have become a total norophobe now. All somebody has to do is mention the words “stomach bug,” and I turn into Paranoid Penny. My husband says to get over it, but HE’S not the one cleaning up the barf (which happens to by my kryptonite the way blood is for you, FYI). Whenever my kids get one, I usually get it shortly afterwards (except for one memorable time when my younger daughter and I both got hit simultaneously and my husband had to work his usually 12-hour shifts that weekend-thank the gods for my older daughter, who was 7 at the time and had just gotten over it-she took care of both of us since I could barely move!). Worse, it takes me three times as long to recover from one. They get the 24-hour version, I’m down for three days. They get the 48-hour one…well, there goes my week. I don’t know about you, but I do NOT have that kind of time to be sick!

This year I am determined that we’ll escape the “carnage” altogether should a norovirus strike our town and schools. I’ve taught the kids to wash their hands as much as possible, not to touch their faces with either their hands or anything else, and to consider the home of friends who get it to be quarantined for 3 weeks afterwards (longer if the rest of their friends’ families catch it too). I’ve also started eating probiotic yogurt and an orange as part of my lunch daily to boost my immune system. If all that should still fail and my stomach starts making noises like the fireplace scene in “The Amityville Horror,” I’m grabbing a double dose of OTC anti-emetics. The “green-apple two-step” I can put up with, but dammit, I refuse to puke! It’s impossible to rehydrate when you’re doing the Technicolor yawn!

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Lisa March 2, 2013 at 8:35 pm

Isn’t cbuffy a T-Tapper? T-Tappers are all over our Liposomal C! I never ever get the flu shot..who knows what is in it! I work at an elementary school where kids are dropping nearly every day. I rarely get sick. Part of it is the working out. Part of it is eating well. I think my immune system has gotten stronger since being exposed to the germs daily. That and the periodic years where I do catch everything..which makes my immune system stronger. :)

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EV May 30, 2013 at 3:29 pm

Here is some GREAT info about the stomach virus!! (check out the rest of the links on the left too).

How it is transmitted: http://www.stopthestomachflu.com/Home/how-is-the-stomach-flu-transmitted

How you can avoid it: http://www.stopthestomachflu.com/Home/how-can-i-avoid-getting-the-stomach-flu

Truth is most people don’t realize that they (or their kids) are contagious for a LONG TIME. As in, your kid is not fine if he finished throwing up yesterday. The virus can infect for at least 3 days after symptoms are gone, and for up to 2 weeks! It is fecal-oral transmitted (which means people don’t wash their hands after going potty well enough, or changing diapers, or people put their hands in their mouth without washing).

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Dw August 4, 2013 at 12:45 pm

I found your post by googling ways to prevent norovirus. Get this 4 different rounds of norovirus in 4 months! My twin toddlers both got it twice, my seven-year-old and I got it four times. Stomach flu puts the fear in me. If there is a hell it is filled with people suffering stomach cramping, vomiting and diahrrea AND they have to look after someone else while feeding a family.

We hand wash…but toddlers don’t help matters. We sing happy birthday twice! Definitely looking for earth’s most powerful probiotic in addition to sucking down gallons of greek yogurt.

Incidentally my husband didn’t get it once! $&@”! Read there is a genetic component. Anyway, thanks for the visual! No washer and dryer really is the cherry on top! That would have sent me to the looney bin.

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catherine August 8, 2013 at 11:07 am

I don`t understand why it never occurs to people to use anti-emetic medicine & anti diahrrea meds, because there`s no way that I could handle the situation described above. It`s a myth that you have to get the virus out of the body with vomiting & diarrhea, you can recover just as quickly without it. There`s no way that I`d be able to handle the situation described above, I`d run out of the house!

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hey March 31, 2014 at 7:37 pm

I got stomach flu 3 times in six months. Twice of those out both ends for 12 or more hours…. AWEFUL. I wash my hands periodically, I will start with adding some calcium and other nutrients.

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