How to Diagnose & Treat Stomach Flu


Important information about the Norovirus

Written by Joe Alton, M.D.

On a recent trip to New York City to visit our daughter, my Wife and I both experienced a medical issue so common that it surprised us that we haven’t yet written about it: acute gastroenteritis, or the “Stomach Flu.” When this infection hits you, it makes even the healthiest individual miserable.

Norovirus is the most common cause of viral gastroenteritis in humans. It was originally called “Norwalk Virus”, after the area where it was first identified in the 1960s. Since then, it’s been blamed for 50% of all gastroenteritis in the U.S. Worldwide, there are more than 200 million cases of norovirus infection a year. It affects people of all ages, but it’s particularly dangerous in the elderly, the very young, and those with weakened immune systems. Winter is the most common time for outbreaks.

Norovirus is very contagious (just 5-20 viral particles can cause illness) and is easily transmitted through contaminated food or water, close personal contact, and by air droplets from vomit, contaminated food counters, and even toilet flushes. Infection can be passed from person to person for a time even after apparent recovery.

The symptoms of the stomach flu include nausea and vomiting, watery diarrhea, and (sometimes severe) abdominal pain, usually within 12 to 48 hours of exposure. Along with this, muscle aches, headache, and fever may be seen. Luckily, life-threatening illness is rare, with dehydration being the main danger in those infected with the virus.

Outbreaks of norovirus infection often occur in closed spaces such as cruise ships, nursing homes, schools, camps, and prisons. Shellfish, such as oysters, and salad ingredients are the foods most often implicated in norovirus outbreaks.

A cure may not be available but prevention is another issue. To decrease the chance of norovirus infection:

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water (norovirus is relatively resistant to alcohol), especially after using the restroom or handling food. Be especially sure to do this for 2 weeks after becoming infected (yes, you can be contagious for that long).
  • Wash food before cooking; cook shellfish thoroughly
  • Frequently disinfect contaminated surfaces with a bleach solution (the EPA recommends 5-25 drops of bleach per gallon)
  • Keep sick individuals away from food preparation areas
  • Avoid close contact with others when you are sick, and don’t share utensils or other items
  • Wear disposable gloves while handling soiled items
  • Immediately remove and wash clothes that may be contaminated with vomit or feces. Machine dry if possible.

It may be difficult to completely eliminate the risk of norovirus infection, but careful attention to hand and food hygiene will go a long way towards avoiding the stomach flu.

About Dr. Joe Alton
Joe Alton, M.D. (www.doomandbloom.net ) is a disaster preparedness expert, member of the Wilderness Medical Society, and NY Times/Amazon bestselling author of “The Survival Medicine Handbook: THE essential guide for when medical help is NOT on the way” and other books. Dr. Alton has also written the just-released and timely “The Zika Virus Handbook”. Dr. Alton is a well known speaker and host of The Doom and Bloom™ Survival Medicine Hour syndicated podcast.

PREVIOUS TV CLIP: Dr. Alton Discussing Zika Virus on HLN

Dr. Alton’s article on the Stomach Flu: www.doomandbloom.net/the-stomach-flu-virus/

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