How to Keep Stomach Viruses from Spreading

How the Stomach Flu Spreads

Have you ever noticed how one person in your house gets the “stomach flu” and it seems inevitable that every single other person in the house will get it too? 

Stomach Flu Isn’t Actually a Flu

“Stomach flu” isn’t actually the flu at all. Influenza (AKA “the flu”) causes an illness with sore throat, runny nose, cough, body aches and high fevers. It’s a respiratory virus.  The “stomach flu” is a catch-all nickname for gastrointestinal viruses that cause vomiting and diarrhea, with Norovirus being the most common culprit.

Why is Stomach Flu So Contagious?

So why’s it so contagious? In one drop of vomit, or one gram of diarrhea, there are 2,000,000 Noroviruses. And it only takes 18 to cause an infection. Don’t ask me how they determined it wasn’t 17, or 19. 

Stomach Flu at a Microscopic Level

So here’s your moment of reflection: The microscopic remnant of your kids vomit that you can’t even see has hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of viruses that can infect you. Now you see why the rest of the family so commonly catches it.

Ebola as an Extreme Example

Remember the Ebola epidemic a few years back, with all the health workers in their plastic suits so they wouldn’t get infected? But even as contagious as Ebola is, Norovirus is even more contagious!  One study showed that Norovirus is already on 60% of adjacent surfaces within 4 hours of the exposure.  So, when your kiddo starts puking, just imagine that within 4 hours, that virus is teeming all over your house.

Here’s what you can do to minimize the spread:

  • Frequent, if not obsessive, hand washing.  
  • Many hand sanitizers do not kill Norovirus. These four do: Clorox Hand Sanitizing Spray, Zylast Antiseptic, Germstar Noro and GFS BioProtect.
  • Not all wipes kill Norovirus. Chlorox Hydrogen Peroxide wipes do.  We wipe down everything – especially faucets, counters, and door knobs.
  • The gold standard for virus killing is bleach. One-half cup of bleach and 4.5 cups of water make a 10% solution that you can use to wipe down surfaces.  Just be careful – if you get this on your clothes, you know the drill.
  • Don’t touch your face! Studies show that we touch our face dozens of times an hour. Your skin is an excellent barrier against Norovirus, but if you touch your mouth, it’s game over.
  • Quarantine the sick person. When one of our kids gets this, we try as hard as we can to keep them in one part of the house, and keep everybody else away.

Fight the Flu with Bedrest for at Least 72 Hours

Your child should stay home until they are symptom-free for 72 hours. It seems like forever, I know, but we know that patients keep shedding live virus for up to 7 days. So keep cleaning those surfaces for at least a week! Above all, be vigilant. If you take it serious you really can avoid the whole family getting sick this year.

by Dr. Jeremy Gabrysch, MD