Preventing the dreaded yuck

The dreaded tummy bug: vomiting, diarrhea, misery. Holly wanted to know, if one child gets it, what’s the best way to prevent it from knocking out the rest of the family?

In medical lingo (you know, we can’t use normal words like normal people), the dreaded tummy bug is known as “gastroenteritis.” Most commonly, it’s caused by a number of different viruses. Sometimes, it’s called a “stomach flu”, though it has nothing at all to do with influenza. The common symptoms are nausea followed by vomiting followed by diarrhea, usually in that order, and usually all occurring within a day or so. Sometimes there’s a fever, or some abdominal pain, but that typically isn’t severe.

Vomiting or diarrhea, though seldom both, can also be caused by food poisoning. When a family catches this, everyone gets sick at the same time—how special! With an infectious (usually viral) gastroenteritis, one person gets it, then another, then another, then it’s time to move to a different house, or at least burn all of your clothes and sheets.

If you can’t afford to do that, it might be more practical to follow these steps for prevention:

  1. Wash your hands.
  2. Wash your hands when you leave the bathroom.
  3. Wash your hands before you eat.
  4. Wash your hands again.
  5. Wash your child’s hands.
  6. Wash your child’s hands when she leaves the bathroom…
  7. …you get the idea.

Purell or a similar brand of alcohol-based hand sanitizer can protect against many infectious, but if your hands are “visibly soiled” you need to do a thorough wash with lots of sudsy soap and running water. What kind of soap doesn’t matter (antibacterial or medical soaps are not more effective than ordinary soap), but hand washing technique is important. You need running water and friction as you rub, and it ought to take as long to wash your hands as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday.” And blow out the candles.

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