Stomach flu, stomach bug, gastro, whatever you like to call it – a beloved child has many names. Though this is no beloved child, it’s a monster. An uncalled for hideous illness that strikes most families every now and then. In all honesty, one of my absolute least favorite bugs.
Protecting yourself and your family against the stomach flu is a near impossibility, once it starts spreading at daycare or school, you have to be pretty fortunate to miss it.
This year, we had a very nasty stomach flu epidemic at daycare, wiping out 2/3 of the kids and staff almost simultaneously. Considering I have three kids between the ages of three and six attending daycare five days a week, guess if we could avoid it.. Well we couldn’t, we managed a day symptom free after the first incident, and then I got the call. You know, the dreaded call. One of the twins was whimpering with stomach cramps and utterly miserable.
Fear the worst, hope for the best and fight it!
So there I was, pretty upset that with everything else, we would be facing a nightmare of a stomach flu to rotate through each one of us. I’m alone with three kids, which means I really have no choice but to rely on outside help when I fall really sick. So I began to prepare, fearing the worst, i.e. all four of us sick simultaneously. Out of experience, I can tell you, it’s horror. Even after you get over the worst, a full on stomach flu will have you at a loss of energy for days to come, which trust me, is not ideal for a busy mom or anyone else for that matter.
Hence this year, I decided to fight back in every possible way. It’s been well over a week since we caught our first symptoms, and though I’m still knocking on wood, my eldest and I have survived without getting sick. We’ve both experienced a few spells of slight nausea and stomach cramps, but so far we’ve managed to avoid the worst. The odds have been completely against us, considering the epidemic has spread like a wildfire through the majority of our friends. This said, I think it’s time I share some of my tips and tricks!
Do not feed the flames
As a disclaimer, I am not a medical practitioner! These tips are just based on my personal best practices and a bit of googling. They’ve proven very helpful to my family, but as always, when in doubt and concerned for the well-being of your children or yourself, turn to a medical professional!
The first rule is to contain it as well as you can!
- Inform schools and daycare immediately when you fall sick, so they can take the necessary precautions. Also inform friends and family who you may have been in near contact with.
- Place extra effort on washing hands with warm water and soap. In addition to the normal reasons for washing hands (i.e. after you use the bathroom and before eating or preparing a meal), wash your hands constantly! When you enter the house, sneeze, pick up toys – basically, wash them every time you pass a tap, and then once more.
- Hand sanitizer is a good idea if you feel like you need the extra precaution, but it will not kill or be-rid for example the norovirus.
- Quarantine yourself! Follow the minimum of 48hrs symptom free rule before returning to daycare, school or work. Avoid having visitors over for several more days. For example, a norovirus vomit stain on a carpet can still be contagious five days later! And note, symptoms also include loss of appetite and lowered energy levels. If you or your child are not fully back to their normal self, stay away from others.
- Wipe down every imaginable surface and object that could have been contaminated with chlorine. Among others, light switches, remote controls, keys, the entire bathroom, door handles, etc. It’s a huge job, but it’s worth it. Again, in the case of norovirus, it will just laugh at normal alcohol based disinfectants and cleaning supplies. The only thing that will kill the virus is chlorine. Downside (or perk, depending on your preference – one of the twins put on her bathers and said she felt like going swimming), is that your house will smell like a swimming pool once you’re done.
When the stomach flu is raging full on
Anticipate and prepare well, it will be a genuine sanity savior. I started preparing for the worst possible scenario as soon as we got home with the kids. I figured it was probably only a matter of hours before the first one of my kids would fall completely ill, so I started getting ready for a long night:
Salvage and protect whatever you can
- Towels, towels, towels: Layer the kids beds with at least 5-6 overlapping towels, with the main focus on the head end. If you have a waterproof liner or sheet, it’s a good idea for extra protection for the mattress. (Mattresses are not very forgiving!) Forget the top sheet. The idea with the towels is that when necessary, you just roll up the contaminated layer(s), throw them in the washing machine, and get on with your sleep, instead of having to remake the entire bed. Instead of pillows, fill pillowcases with rolled up towels, or wrap the pillow completely inside a thick towel. Place towels inside of duvet covers (for small children I use baby blanket duvet covers), and prepare several ready (just as pillows too). If your little patient is really sick, using just a towel as a blanket will work just as well. They won’t be craving the extra comfort of a sheet at that time.
- Remove all extra sleep toys, pillows, etc. from the bed. My girls like to have a lot of stuffed toys in their beds, but we agreed that everyone could have only one easily washable comforter for the nights. Everything else was cleared to the side.
- Remove all carpets (if you can) or cover full-floor carpeting with towels in the most risky areas. Especially next to beds, on the way to the bathroom, etc.
- Clear the floors of all excessive toys, etc. An empty floor is so much more thankful to wash then when scattered full of puzzle pieces and legos..
- Cover open bookshelves and nightstands with sheets, (again mainly those in the “danger zone”).
- Place buckets, deep bowls, and paper towels at an arms reach. For my 3-year old I had two buckets. One on her nightstand and another at the foot-end, so I could grab it quicker when running to her during the night.
- Wash everything that gets contaminated with hot water. If possible, throw towels and PJ’s in the wash immediately. Remember that anything stained with norovirus can be a contaminator for several days!
It’s okay to exaggerate
Now I know a lot of these precautions seem absurd and exaggerated, and I sincerely hope they will be completely unnecessary for you. Trust me though, if things get real, you will thank me, I promise.
My biggest mistake that I made during this episode will have you smirking; I had completely vomit-proofed the girls room and cleared the immediate areas next to my bed on the entrance side. When the first twin fell sick (two days after her initial cramps), I had already let down my guard. She came into my bed in the morning, and I went downstairs. Suddenly I hear the ghastly sound and ran back upstairs. She had crawled over to the far side of my bed (which was not protected in any way). Being a good girl, she had tried to aim over the side.. And hit directly my nightstand/open bookshelf plus a basket with various knickknacks and documents that was partially under my bed.. I couldn’t help but laugh at the irony while I threw out books and documents that couldn’t be saved.. So be thorough! 😉
Caring for a stomach flu patient
One of the most important things to do is stay hydrated. This is a lot easier than said, especially if there is rigorous vomiting involved.
- Stick to tiny sips of water or mild juices at a time. Wait 15-30 minutes if everything keeps coming up. Sometimes though, drinking a bit more at once can be very helpful, especially when you reach the stage of just gagging stomach acids.
- Opt for pediatric electrolytes and avoid super sugary drinks.
- Monitor the level of hydration! The younger the child, the quicker they can become dehydrated. Contact a doctor or nurse if you have any concerns and are worried about the child!
- Do not force food. Liquids are so much more important! Eating is completely secondary! Once you see the return of an appetite, start off with mild foods. Some swear to stay off of dairy products during the first 24 hours, others swear by mild flavored yogurts. Blueberry soup is a traditional means for calming an upset stomach in Finland. Another good rule to stick by is BRAT: Banana, Rice, Apples, Toast. I boiled rice with vegetable broth as a first meal for my sickest one.
- Encourage as much rest as possible!
Some more precautions
Depending on your situation, you might want to take some or all of these extra precautions into consideration also. Especially if there is an epidemic going around, I say rather safe than sorry!
- Stock up on stomach friendly foods (blueberry soup, keep toast in the freezer, rice, etc.), juices and medication (painkillers, lactic acid bacteria, etc.) in advance.
- As a single parent, I do not want to go down with the stomach flu. I doubt anyone wants to, but especially when there is only one adult in the house, you will be more needed than ever. Hence I have anti-nausea and anti-cramp prescription medication in the cabinet for myself. (Mine are sadly not suitable for children.)
- One of the moms in our PTA set up a Whatsapp group specifically for the stomach flu. This was a fantastic idea! We updated each other on the “progress” and varying symptoms, shared thoughts and offered to help each other with whatever we could.
- Inform work well in advance, i.e. as soon as you know of an epidemic that is likely to affect your family. Keep work posted, so they know to prepare for a substitute or that you will have to stay absent for several days (in case applicable). I hope you have an understanding employer!
- Try to avoid excessive grocery store visits. If possible, ask for friends, family or neighbors to bring you groceries – and leave them outside your door. Oh and even though if it’s freezing outside, remember to wipe down your door handle on the outside too with chlorine!
And a final reminder
Though a stomach flu can be a nasty and trying experience for a normal, healthy person, it will pass in a matter of hours/days. Keep in mind though that it can be extremely dangerous, if not even life threatening, for someone who has a lowered immune system or some other underlying condition. This may sound rude, but if you’re ill, consider your surroundings! A stomach flu is not a time for being selfish. Instead I ask you to genuinely over weigh the impacts it could have if you do not stay away from others while contagious.
All in all, I hope you stay healthy! If you do fall sick, console yourself with that this too shall pass <3 The days will feel long, so try to get your mind off of things and squeeze in a breather whenever possible. Get as much rest as you can just in case. I opted among others for knitting and sipping on wine while the girls slept, and once they were up for it, we went outside to play in our yard for a while. But I do have to admit, it’s been a looong week stuck at home alone with three lively little ladies!
Let me know in the comments if I missed something important, or if you have any additional great advice worth sharing! x