Understanding the stomach bug

It’s that time of the year when someone you know or you yourself is sick. A friend was at the daycare this morning and the teachers told her many teachers and kids also caught the viral stomach bug. Geisinger Gastroenterologist Dr. Brandon Craft said, “The scientific name for the viral stomach bug is viral gastroenteritis. It is an intestinal infection marked by watery diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea or vomiting, and sometimes fever.”

The most common way to develop viral gastroenteritis, often called stomach flu is through contact with an infected person or by ingesting contaminated food or water. If you’re otherwise healthy, you’ll likely recover without complications. But for infants, older adults and people with compromised immune systems, viral gastroenteritis can be deadly.

There’s no effective treatment for viral gastroenteritis, so prevention is key, said Dr. Craft. In addition to avoiding food and water that may be contaminated, thorough and frequent hand-washings are your best defense. The best way to prevent the spread of intestinal infections is to follow these precautions:

Get your child vaccinated. A vaccine against gastroenteritis caused by the rotavirus is available in some countries, including the United States. Given to children in the first year of life, the vaccine appears to be effective in preventing severe symptoms of this illness.

Wash your hands thoroughly. And make sure your children do, too. If your children are older, teach them to wash their hands, especially after using the toilet. It’s best to use warm water and soap and to rub hands vigorously for at least 20 seconds, remembering to wash around cuticles, beneath fingernails and in the creases of the hands. Then rinse thoroughly. Carry towelettes and hand sanitizer for times when soap and water aren’t available.

Use separate personal items around your home. Avoid sharing eating utensils, glasses and plates. Use separate towels in the bathroom.

Keep your distance. Avoid close contact with anyone who has the virus, if possible.

Disinfect hard surfaces. If someone in your home has viral gastroenteritis, disinfect hard surfaces, such as counters, faucets and doorknobs, with a mixture of two cups of bleach to one gallon of water.

Check out your child care center. Make sure the center has separate rooms for changing diapers and preparing or serving food. The room with the diaper-changing table should have a sink as well as a sanitary way to dispose of diapers.


Dr. Brandon Craft is a gastroenterologist at Geisinger.