How to treat, prevent norovirus (stomach flu) | Dr. Petter

The stomach flu, or officially viral gastroenteritis, is very common between November and April.

This year the norovirus is especially virulent, causing widespread infections. Each year about 21 million people contract this illness, and of this amount about 800 will die.

This virus is highly contagious. Exposure to just 10 viral particles will make you sick (infected body fluids contain 100 million particles). You can contract the virus by direct contact with an infected individual, by touching a contaminated surface (i.e., countertop, door knob, shopping cart), or by ingesting contaminated food or water.

Symptoms develop quickly, and consist of: stomach or intestinal pain, nausea, projectile vomiting and watery diarrhea. You are contagious at the first signs of symptoms and for up to two weeks.

Since this illness is caused by a virus, antibiotics will not help. Treatment consists of fluid replacements, as excessive vomiting and diarrheas quickly can lead to dehydration.

Once the nausea subsides, begin sipping on clear fluids (i.e., water, juice, flat 7 Up, Gatorade) and gradually increase. The typical healthy man needs three liters of water a day, women 2.2 liters a day. Next, try soup; chicken noodle soup is great, as it contains a naturally anti-inflammatory. Thereafter, try eating bland foods (i.e., toast, rice, potatoes).

If you are not better in one or two days or are unable to keep any fluids or food down, see a doctor (Primary Care physician, Urgent Care, local hospital emergency department) as you may require IV fluids and anti-emetic treatment. Again, dehydration can be a serious medical condition, especially for the very young and old.

Prevention is the key to avoiding contracting this illness and passing it on to others. Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly throughout the day. A good rule to follow is to just keep your hands away from your face to help prevent inoculating yourself.

This virus can withstand freezing temperatures and heat up to 140 degrees. Therefore, disinfecting surfaces is very important: use one-third cup bleach in one gallon of water for wiping down smooth surfaces (i.e., countertops, sinks, toilets, door knobs). And, one tablespoon of bleach in one gallon of water for disinfecting stainless steel surfaces and non-cloth toys.

Since this virus also can be found on fruits and vegetables, thoroughly wash these foods before consuming, and cook shellfish completely.

Dr. Petter of Auburn is a weekly feature on KOMO TV/Newsradio (1000 AM and 97.7 FM) every Saturday and Sunday at 7:45 a.m. and 9:45 a.m. She trained at the Mayo Clinic and the University of Illinois, Carle Hospital. Dr. Petter is chief of the Department of Family Practice at St. Francis Hospital in Federal Way. She is a consumer healthcare advocate and author of two books, "Healthcare On a Budget" and "Common Medical Sense". Visit her website,, or call her office at 253-568-0841.

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