Did you know that the flu shot we get in the fall is NOT for the “stomach flu”? You know, the vomiting and diarrhea bug? We get many calls at NurseDirect from people who have gotten the flu shot and can’t understand why they have vomiting and diarrhea. The flu shot is for upper respiratory problems, headaches, body aches, sore throats and the overall hit-by-a-truck feeling. So the influenza shot you get in the fall will unfortunately not protect you from the stomach bug that seems to ravage the Valley in the fall and winter.
This gastroenteritis, or stomach flu as it is frequently called, seems to hit hardest later in the year but can appear all year long. Often times it starts suddenly with an onslaught of vomiting over and over, followed by diarrhea right behind it. Although it seems endless at the time, the worst of the vomiting usually ends after 8-10 hours. The diarrhea tapers off, but doesn’t completely leave your system for several days. Remember though, everyone’s immune system is different and these viral bugs hit people differently. All models vary! You may or may not have fever with this bug.
There can be a lot of abdominal cramping with the stomach flu. Typically the cramps build up until you vomit or pass some stool. It lets up a little, only to build up and start the cycle again. Now, this is the important part! If the cramps or pain become constant and relentless it may not be the stomach flu. It is important to distinguish this difference between constant pain and intermittent-type pain. Constant pain could indicate something more serious and you need to see your doctor!
Our biggest concern with this stomach bug is dehydration. Lots of fluids are lost with vomiting and diarrhea and they need to be replaced. It is hard to do when fluids are coming out faster than you can put them in! So, the key to the fluid replacement is … “slow and steady wins the race”. Small sips of fluid are tolerated best. If you drink too much at once it will come up again. Start with sips five minutes apart, and gradually build up from there until you are drinking large amounts. Gatorade, sport drinks, water, broth and popsicles are best for children and adults. Pedialyte works best for infants and toddlers. Remember, no solid food until we know fluids are staying down. It is best to wait until you haven’t vomited for at least five hours. If you can’t keep fluids down, it will be hard to keep solids down! Easily digested foods are best. I tell people the “white things” such as white bread, white rice, white potatoes, oatmeal and noodles are all good choices. Our stomach acids digest them quickly so they don’t have to process through your system, allowing it to rest. Stay away from milk and dairy and most fruits and veggies when you have an unsettled stomach. Although very good for you, they will make your diarrhea worse.
Watch for dehydration. We want to make sure you are urinating at least every five to six hours, that your mouth is wet and moist and that babies cry good tears. Dizziness, weakness and fatigue come next. If you can’t get the fluids replaced, it is time to see a doctor.
Hopefully this bug won’t find you. Be prepared if it does, and keep working on the fluids. Drinking water is still the single best thing you can do for yourself!