This is that time of year when we begin to see a number of nasty colds and flu viruses circulating. One of the most miserable is the stomach flu. The stomach flu is not actually caused by the influenza virus which causes seasonal flu, but rather any number of other viruses such as the norovirus and rotovirus. These viruses are very contagious and spread quickly throughout schools, community centers and workplaces around Wilmington. Many of these viruses leave patients the most contagious 24 hours before symptoms even begin which is one reason they spread so easily. Most of these viruses leave you suffering from vomiting, watery diarrhea, stomach pains, and sometimes low grade fever.
The bad news is that there is no cure or season vaccine available for stomach flu. The good news is that if you do become infected, most people begin to feel better within 24-48 hours. To keep from prolonging your illness and aggravating your symptoms, follow these simple steps.
First, and most importantly, rest the stomach for a minimum of one hour after vomiting before attempting to drink anything. After waiting a minimum of one hour, you may start to take small amounts of fluid. Cola or Ginger Ale are best, but you may also try water or Gatorade. Begin with small sips every ten minutes or so. After one hour you may gradually begin to increase the amount of fluid. If at any point you vomit again, you must start over and rest your stomach for at least one hour before reattempting fluids.
If you have successfully gone at least four hours without vomiting and you have successfully kept down fluids you may begin to try food if you would like. You need to start out with small amounts, and try something bland like dry toast, crackers or pretzels. Again, if you are able to keep the food down after one hour you may have something else small and bland. The best diet for recovering from any gastrointestinal illness is the B.R.A.T. diet. B.R.A.T. stands for banana, rice, apple sauce and toast. These foods will help with not only vomiting, but will also help to return your bowels to normal as well. If at any point during eating you vomit again, you must start over from the beginning resting your stomach from fluids for one hour and at least four hours before reattempting solids.
Most people recover from the stomach flu without any complications. However, young children, the elderly, or the infirmed may be more susceptible to complications like dehydration. If at any point you experience sunken eyes, no tears, extreme dry mouth, decreased or inability to urinate, or you are unable to take any fluids and keep it down for more than four to six hours you should call your doctor. Additionally, if you experience worsening stomach pains and fever it is best to call your doctor or visit the ER.
Be sure to follow the B.R.A.T. diet for as long as symptoms persist. Many times the vomiting will subside, whereas diarrhea may continue for up to 10 days. Although it is important to eat, in the early stages of illness, try to focus on staying hydrated. If you do not feel like eating, do not force it. Your appetite should return when the worst of the symptoms are alleviated.
It is hard many times to avoid illnesses like the stomach flu, but proper hand washing, especially before eating or preparing food, should help prevent the spread of the illness. Also, take a multivitamin and extra vitamin C to give your immune system a boost.