When my kids were little, I assumed if one of us started throwing up, it was inevitable that the rest of us would end up camping out in the bathroom ourselves within a couple of days.
Until I decided to get smarter about stomach bugs and actively work to prevent their circulating through this family. Believe me, I’ve had more practice than I’d like.
Here’s what I do, based on the CDC’s Norovirus guidelines and many messy years of experience:
Confine the Patient to One Bathroom
Washing hands all the time to keep those GI germs off is key, but containing the contagious fluids in one bathroom is just as crucial and perhaps even more effective.
At the first sign of vomiting or diarrhea or even if I know one of my kids has been exposed and will probably get sick, I confine that person to one bathroom, and no one else in this family uses it. (Not that anyone’s really chomping at the bit to get in there, anyway.)
Seems drastic, I know. Some people reading this might say, “Wow, overreact much?”
And to those people I’d say, “Hey, don’t knock it ’til you try it. Your family may thank you.”
Seriously. It works.
Wash Your Hands
You already know this, but it’s worth repeating.
The germs of a GI virus live in the infected fluids, and they make you sick if you ingest them. Everyone should wash their hands constantly before eating or drinking or doing anything else that involves the face, just in case they’ve come in contact with those germs.
Caregivers should always wash their hands after dealing with those infected fluids, and the patients should do it after throwing up or – my kids have a hard time remembering this one when they’re sick – after brushing their teeth.
Another obvious step that bears repeating: people should always – ALWAYS – wash their hands after using the bathroom, sick or not.
Keep Re-hydrating Drinks in Your Sick Box
What’s a sick box? This is a sick box.
Carbonated drinks are supposed to make vomiting worse, but my family and I all crave ginger ale when we’re nauseous, so we go with it. Other people use flat cola. The main rule is, drink clear liquids a little bit at a time and avoid dairy and juice.
Popsicles work great, too, and sometimes they stay down when liquids won’t.
I keep Gatorade powder in my Sick Box, too, for re-hydrating after the vomiting stops and the stomach settles a little.
Wipe Down Shared Surfaces Constantly
You could wait to disinfect doorknobs and light switches and kitchen counters until your sick kid recovers, but why?
If I get a free minute, I wipe down every shared surface I can with bleach water, all throughout the illness. (One capful of bleach per gallon of water) Since my asthmatic daughter can’t tolerate the smell of bleach very well and it makes her flare, this is the only time I use it. Any hard surface is fair game, but don’t forget these:
Telephones, remote controls, faucets, doorknobs, light switches, kitchen counters, staircase banisters.
First of all, who wants to clean their teeth with the same toothbrush they used when they were throwing up?
Secondly, throwing out the patient’s old toothbrush will help stop the spread of germs.
Give Bland Food for Awhile
Most parents already know the BRAT diet:
Also good? Saltines, plain pasta, and noodle soup.
After recovery, I still stick with mild, soft, non-spicy foods like scrambled eggs, roast chicken, mashed or baked potatoes, and non-citrus fruits for a few days.
Wash all bedding and clothing of the sick person in hot water after recovery. Don’t forget towels, washcloths, and – if your kids like to lie on the couch when sick like mine do – throw pillows. Vacuum if you want to get really crazy.
Okay, gastroenteritis is not airborne like the flu virus so this step probably has no effect on the germs at all, but opening my house up to let some fresh air circulate just seems healthier.
And who knows?
I live in the Denver area, a mile high. At this altitude, the air is very dry, so opening my windows might actually do some good. It sure makes me feel better, and that’s important, too.
Got some rules of your own?
Throw ‘em below.