QUESTION: One by one, everybody in our family came down with a stomach bug last month. When our kids get sick, how can my wife and I avoid catching it?
DR. RASKIN: The joys of having kids are endless, but they don’t include the bugs they will inevitably bring home from school. Other than wrapping your kids in plastic wrap or home-schooling, there is nothing much you can do to stop this.
Officially called gastroenteritis, stomach flu is an infection of the digestive system and is not related to the regular flu or influenza. Flu shots, therefore, are not protective against these bugs.
Although stomach flu is the second most common illness kids get (colds are the most common), the good news is that these infections are not usually serious.
These illnesses are usually caused by viruses like the Rotavirus, but they can also be caused by bacteria or parasites.
There usually isn’t any specific treatment other than making sure your child doesn’t get dehydrated.
Unfortunately, these bugs are highly contagious, and children are contagious before they actually show any signs or symptoms.
Adults may even harbor the germs and pass them along but not always show symptoms because they have a stronger immune system.
So what can you do to help prevent the spread amongst your family?
The best thing to help is thorough hand washing. This means teaching your kids to scrub their hands with soap and warm water for a minimum of 20 seconds, not just after going to the bathroom, but after coming home from school, playdates and being in any public place.
I have taught my kids that they can’t stop washing until they sing the “Happy Birthday” song three times through!
If hand washing can’t be done, hand sanitizer is an acceptable alternative.
Also, wiping down surfaces in the kitchen, bathrooms and other public places with bleach or another disinfectant can help stop the spread of these nasty germs. Don’t forget doorknobs and light switches!
The stomach flu viruses can live for weeks on household surfaces.
If you have an older child who is sick, try to keep them isolated if possible.
Have them stay in their room and not use other bathrooms in the home while they are ill. Of course, this is impossible if the child is a toddler or too young.
You can also wear plastic gloves around the home and a facemask if you want to go all out. This will prevent any vomit particles from getting on your face.
When your sick family member is better, make them take a good shower and put on clean clothes before they join the rest of the family in the common areas of the house.
Finally, the best method of prevention is to keep up a healthy immune system.
Exercising, eating right and getting enough sleep are all important habits to help ward off illness. In the end, enjoy your kids and cherish them…in sickness and in health!
Palisadian Damon Raskin, M.D., is a board-certified internist who offers preventative medicine, concierge services and addiction medicine to patients in and around the Palisades. Contact: 310-459-4333. To submit your medical questions, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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