beat the bug Doctor's tips: How to protect your family during the winter vomiting bug season
Given the current situation, parents are obviously keen to keep their children safe, but it's important to remember that other medical issues don't go away just because coronavirus has come around. Children will still get sick and doctors are still there to help with this.
There is nothing worse than a vomiting bug or diarrhoea. We see it a lot in the surgery, especially during the winter months, unfortunately.
Gastroenteritis (or inflammation of the stomach lining) is most commonly caused by a stomach bug - an infection you have picked up from either contaminated food or from someone else who is sick. In some cases, you can have fever and muscle aches as well. These symptoms are a result of the body fighting the infection, which is why we see them in a range of different illnesses, such as the flu and Covid-19 too.
It is important to remember that gastroenteritis is highly contagious, and spreads easily. You are most contagious once the symptoms start, and for up to two days after they have settled. Stay at home during this period, and keep children out of school or childcare.
The best way to prevent spreading the infection is to wash your hands with soap and water, regularly and well - not unlike the Covid-19 advice.
Most of the time, there is no specific cure for gastroenteritis, and you just have to let it run its course. Usually, the symptoms only last a couple of days, but in some cases, longer. If you're worried, check with your pharmacist or GP, preferably by telephone to start. The reason for this is that you risk spreading it to others!
The most well-known bug is the winter vomiting bug, which is caused by the norovirus. Norovirus spreads easily in public places like hospitals and nursing homes; hence, we tend to see whole wards closed down in the hospitals over the winter months.
With coronavirus, there is also a risk of dehydration, which can lead to serious complications, including kidney issues. Babies, young children and the elderly are most at risk from complications with dehydration, so it's important to look out for the signs. For example, in babies, it's important to keep an eye on how much milk they are taking, and if they are having wet nappies. If there is a significant decrease in the amount of nappies, then it is worth checking in with your doctor.
One of the most important things to do is to maintain adequate hydration - while lots of people will take sips of water, it's actually important to ensure we get some sugars and salts into our body as well, especially if you aren't taking in food. When taking fluids, we should be aiming to keep our urine a pale, clear colour.
Use a product such as Diacare, which contains a balanced blend of glucose electrolytes, minerals and Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG. This will help to prevent the risk of dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. With the addition of lactobacillus, it can also help to restore and repopulate the gut microbiota, which can be affected by the bug that caused the stomach upset in the first place.
For adults, your body will fight off the infection itself, so, while it is a very debilitating bug, try not to worry. Get lots of rest, plenty of fluids, and limit your contacts.
- Dr Laura Lenihan is a GP and mum-of-three, whose popular Instagram feed on women's health and paediatrics has a following of over 37,000. She is a brand ambassador for Diacare, a new Irish-made solution to dehydration and stomach upset that combines the benefits of a probiotic and electrolytes to aid recovery.