Surviving the Stomach Bug: Truths & Tips for Parents
Stomach bugs tend to be the nastiest illnesses our children bring home from school.
7 Truths & Tips for Survival of Stomach Bugs When They Hit Your Home
- Hand washing and keeping things clean are your best defenses from getting ill with a stomach bug. Not surprisingly, this is particularly true after touching or supporting your child and when preparing food and eating. Some viruses will survive on surfaces for days. And some viruses like Norovirus can even survive hand sanitizer. You have to use soap and water to kill it. But even with ridiculous, meticulous attention to hygiene, every parent knows that when the vomit is flying, it’s hard to lasso every single errant particle. So simply commit to do your best. Change the sheets and clean up areas of vomit immediately after supporting your child. Soapy warm water is your friend. Wash surfaces immediately, use hot water for the wash, and use high heat in the dryer.
- 24 hours (or so): In general, most pediatricians will tell you that vomiting doesn’t exceed 24 hours with typical gastroenteritis. Occasionally it can. Many kids don’t follow the rules. Once a virus that causes gastroenteritis takes hold of a child, vomiting starts. Children tend to vomit more than adults. Part may be an easy gag reflex. With most viruses that cause the “stomach flu,” as the infection moves through the stomach and intestines, vomiting stops after about 24 hours. But not always. If you advance liquids too quickly or children eat more solids than they are ready for, even after the first meal 1 to 2 days into eating again, they may have a vomit encore. If you have one of those, start back where you started (sips of clear liquids) and go very slow advancing their diet. If vomiting is accelerating at 24 hours, it is time to check in with your child’s doctor.
- Disgusting and terrifying: It’s creepy-eepy to take care of a child with vomiting. Not only is it entirely gnarly and disgusting to remove and clean chunks from vomit-laden carpet, sheets, and clothing, it’s also terrifying to provide support to a vomiting child because you can get equally uneasy about catching the virus. You’re not alone in this. It’s absolutely nauseating to see your own child ill, unwell, and retching. And it’s awful to imagine having to provide care while getting miserably sick. Do your best to keep your hands washed and keep the love going. As all of us know, when you find yourself picking out vomit bits from the carpet at 3:00 am, it really can only get better from there.
- Medication: Children rarely need medication when recovering from gastroenteritis. Although some antinausea drugs are available for use in children, most children don’t need prescription medications. Talk with your child’s pediatrician if you feel you child is vomiting longer than 24 hours or becoming dehydrated. Remember that vomiting is a protection reaction of your child’s body to clear infection.
- Soap, water, and bleach: William Osler said, “Soap and water and common sense are the best disinfectants.” Cleaning your home to avoid spreading infection is a must. You don’t need expensive products, just vigilance. With some highly infectious viruses that cause vomiting, even 10 viral particles can cause illness. So in addition to soap and water, consider using a dilute bleach solution to clean hard surfaces.
- Detective work: Sometimes you’ll simply never know where it all came from. But it won’t stop you from playing the role of infectious detective. The only issue: this is simply wasted time.
- Yummy, clingy love: There is an occasional perk to a terrible stomach bug. And we have to find one to maintain a sense of optimism. When our children are ill, they really turn over and show us they want us over anything else on earth.
Then there is resilience. Children do very well recovering from typical viral gastroenteritis, although diarrhea can last for days. Even so, our children’s resilience will long astonish us.
- Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, MBE, FAAP
- Last Updated
- Mama Doc Medicine: Finding Calm and Confidence in Parenting, Child Health, and Work-Life Balance (Copyright © 2014 Wendy Sue Swanson)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.