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Everything You Need to Know to Survive the Stomach Bug

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Disclaimer: This post is written by our contributor, who is a Physician’s Assistant. This is a generalized overview of stomach bugs, but if you feel your child may have stomach problems, we urge you to always contact your child’s own medical professional. The advice here is not intended to provide a diagnosis, but to raise awareness of symptoms and steps to take.

The stomach bug can hit any house unexpectedly and when it does, it’s not fun, especially for kids. So what should you know about the stomach bug and what can you do to help ease the symptoms?  As a Physician Assistant (PA-C) that sees this regularly, let me tell you what I tell my patients to help them out. 

When I am talking about a stomach bug, I am talking about diarrhea (loose and frequent stools), nausea and vomiting that typically last 24-48 hrs. Many people will have abdominal cramping too. It can be caused by a variety of things, but these tend to be the most common:

  • Norovirus– It’s spread through contaminated food and water and can be spread from person to person. Most outbreaks occur from November to April.  Symptoms typically start 24-48 hours after being exposed. 
  • Rotavirus– This is the most common cause worldwide but we vaccinate against most strains of it in the United States. 
  • E. Coli or Staph– The most common cause of food poisoning. Symptoms from food poisoning typically start about 6 hrs after eating contaminated food. 

So when should you go to a healthcare provider and when should you wait it out? If any of these symptoms occur you  or your kids need to be seen immediately.

  • Bloody diarrhea
  • High fevers above 102F
  • Dehydration– kids can get dehydrated really easily, especially babies. So if your child won’t drink or eat or have low or no urine output, they need to be seen by a healthcare provider immediately. Dry mouth or unable to produce tears are some other signs of dehydration.
  • Abdominal pain and tenderness– if your child is crying and very irritable or if it hurts if anyone touches their stomach, get them checked out.
  • Sunken fortanelles (soft spots on the top of babies heads)
  • Acting confused or lethargic
  • Diarrhea or vomiting lasting more then 48-72 hours might need to get checked out by a professional also. 

If none of those criteria have been met and you think it’s something you can manage at home, here are some great remedies to help!

  • Stay hydrated– I always recommend sport drinks or broth instead of straight water. They seem to sit better on upset stomachs and sport drinks can help replace electrolytes that you can loose with diarrhea and vomiting. 
  • BRAT diet:
    • Bananas- can help replace potassium
    • Rice- easy on the stomach and has lots of carbs
    • Applesauce- carbs and sugar to help give energy
    • Toast
  • Pedialyte– great drink that also helps replace electrolytes
  • Antinausea medication (Zofran, Phenergan, etc.)- most adults can get these prescribed for their stomach illness but it varies by provider on if they want to give them to kids, so check with your child’s pediatrician. 

Foods to avoid:

  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol 
  • Spicy Foods
  • Aspirin– kids shouldn’t have aspirin as it can cause Reyes syndrome

As far as over the counter medications, I recommend checking with your doctor before starting any antidiarrheal medication in most cases. Normally acute diarrhea is best allowed to run its course over 24-48 hrs and Imodium is not needed. 

To avoid getting the stomach bug, make sure you and everyone in your household:

  • Wash your hands often and regularly
  • Wipe down surfaces with antibacterial spray/wipes
  • Avoid sharing drinks and food

After you start feeling better, let your stomach recover. Just because pizza sounds good, that should not be your first meal after you are sick. Start out with easy, bland foods. Your stools can be soft for a couple of days afterwards before they return to normal, but you should start feeling better and the nausea and abdominal cramping should get better. Hopefully you won’t have to fight any stomach bugs this year, but if you do, I hope this helps you be prepared!

Have any questions? Post them in the comments!

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