When you hear about 'flu season' this time of year, a picture instantly pops into your head. Coughing, aching, sneezing, fever and congestion are the hallmarks of a typical flu. But what happens when the flu you're battling is an entirely different creature? What happens when, shortly before Christmas, your whole house is knocked over by the STOMACH flu? In the Oatmeal house, it meant a million diaper changes, several jars of applesauce, and a ton of lounging and watching TV. We weren't sure what to do to combat this virus in ourselves, or in Little Oats; should we run to the doctor? Pop some pills? And what about that flu shot we got a few weeks back - wasn't this supposed to help?
I'll throw a little science at you from my limited knowledge bank (and handy Google). The stomach flu isn't actually the flu at all; it's gastroenteritis, an infection of the stomach and intestines. That means your flu shot is null and void in this case - they're two separate beasts. Where the real flu brings on aches, pains, fever and congestion, the stomach flu usually results in nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomachache. This bug is often referred to as norovirus in the US, and sometimes called the winter vomiting bug in the UK, but regardless of what you call it, it's awful.
Norovirus is spread either person-to-person, or indirectly via infected food and water. Vomiting, toilet flushing, and sharing of food and drink can 'aerosolize' the virus, making it quickly spreadable. The CDC says that norovirus is responsible for over half of all food-borne illness every year; that last bout of 'food poisoning' you had could very well have been a norovirus. Though scary and unpleasant, most bouts of norovirus go away on their own, as the virus (or sometimes bacteria) runs its course.
Here are a few tips for preventing the spread of norovirus:
*Note: these are CDC recommendations...but take them with a grain of salt. Your kid is probably still going to lick the shopping cart at Target, CDC guidelines be damned.*
1. Wash your hands: Norovirus can be detected in your.... waste... days before you start feeling sick. That means, when you change a diaper, scrub those hands. Even if baby seems to be feeling fine, you might have just gotten yourself infected. Also, norovirus lives on surfaces for a very long time, and are extremely hardy and contagious; every door handle, railing, and flat surface you touch is a potential norovirus breeding ground. A little soap goes a long way for yourself and your kids.