Do you know the difference between a Stomach Bug and the actual Flu – or what to do when your child is sick with these viruses? Read on to find out the difference between the Norovirus and Influenza
There are two VERY common viruses (with multiple strains of each) that will hit many households in the US each year; the Norwalk Virus or Norovirus and Influenza. So, what do you need to KNOW about these viruses and what should you DO about them?
**Let me start off by saying that I am NOT a medical professional….I am simply a well educated, well researched, mom of four, with a background in Anatomy & Physiology and a great disdain for the little germs.**
Everything I am going to tell you *SHOULD* be common knowledge (however, it does not tend to be) and you can find more information on the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) website and by consulting with your doctor. The information I am giving you is intended to be a quick reference and to clear up the confusion between the two, as well as educate people on how to prevent the viruses from spreading and when it is safe to send your children to school.
Let’s start off with our little friend called the Norovirus.
- What is it? The Norovirus is also referred to as Norwalk-like virus and Caliciviruses. The Norovirus is the main cause of what we call “Stomach Virus”, “Stomach Flu”, “Stomach Bug”, or “Viral Gastroenteritis”. The Norovirus attacks your intestines & GI track causing inflammation which in turn causes stomach pain, vomiting, and diarrhea. Norovirus is NOT linked to the actual flu, Influenza, which is a respiratory infection.
- How does it spread? The virus spores live in the vomit and fecal matter secreted by the infected person and spreads rapidly. An infected person may continue to be contagious for several days after being infected.
- What to do? Regular hand washing is your best line of defense here. Hot Water and Bleach are the ONLY things that will kill the virus. Alcohol based hand sanitizers are useless against it. Be sure to wash all clothing and sheets that may have been soiled in HOT water and Bleach immediately. Also, note, the biggest threat here is dehydration. Make sure to keep hydrated, or you will land yourself in the ER with an IV.
- When can your child return to school? The rule of thumb here is 24 hrs AFTER the last episode. So, if your child vomits at 10pm at night, but wakes up fine the next morning, DO NOT send them to school! Please, for the sake of others, keep them home until the full 24 hours has passed.
Okay, do well understand this one? Norovirus=stomach bug= vomiting=wash with Hot water & Bleach (use soap on hands, bleach on hard surfaces and in the wash with blankets, towels, sheets, etc.).
Now, lets move on to our little friend, Influenza.
- What is Influenza? There are many, many, strains of “The Flu”. So many, in fact, that the typical flu shot does not inoculate you against them all. Some common terms you may hear are; Influenza A, Influenza B, h1n1, swine flu, and avian flu. Flu Viruses typically cause a respiratory infection (runny nose, cough) fever, headaches, fatigue, among other symptoms. The severity of symptoms depends on the individual, as some are at greater risk than others, and the strain of the flu that is contracted.
- How does it spread? Since the flu virus is a respiratory infection it lives in the mouth and nose. According to the CDC, the Flu virus is spread person to person up to 6 feet away when a person coughs or sneezes.
- What to do? The CDC and Doctors recommend the annual flu vaccine as your first line of defense. (note: for full disclosure, I personally do not get a flu vaccine). Regular hand washing with soap and water is a MUST, and unlike the Norovirus, alcohol based hand sanitizers can also be effective in killing the virus. Also wash all sheets, blankets, cups, plates, and eating utensils used by the infected person. Since the flu is a viral infection and not bacterial, Antibiotics will do no good against it. Tamiflu and other “anti-viral” medications can be effective in lessening the severity and duration of the symptoms but are ONLY given if Influenza is confirmed within the first 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. Over the counter medications such as Acetaminophen and Ibuprofen can be used to reduce fever and make an infected person “feel” better, but will not get rid of the virus.
- When can my child return to school? This is a big one as we all know young people are not the best at washing hands and covering their sneezes and coughs. A person with Influenza can be contagious for 5-7 days OR MORE! Recommendations are to keep them home until they have been fever free (without the use of medications for fever control) for 24 hrs. This means, if a fever breaks at 4pm on a Sunday night, DO NOT send them to school Monday morning. Wait the full 24 hours before sending them back.
So here’s the recap: Influenza=FLU=Respiratory Infection=Wash with soap and water and use hand sanitizer