The “Stomach Flu”

The “Stomach Flu”

You may have noted that my newsletter this month was added to the website a little later than usual… Well, it’s true- Doctors do get sick sometimes! This weekend bought on a case of viral gastroenteritis (the stomach flu). So, for this edition of my newsletter, I thought I’d discuss some important points about the stomach flu and what to do to prevent and treat it.

– Viral Gastroenteritis refers to inflammation of the lining of the intestines with a viral cause. Although commonly known as “stomach flu”, it is not caused by the influenza virus. Rather, it is caused by many different viruses (rotavirus, norovirus, Norwalk, and adenovirus being the most common).
– The symptoms of viral gastroenteritis are not pretty: watery diarrhea and vomiting. In addition, some people suffer a headache, fever and chills, and abdominal cramping.
– Gastroenteritis is highly contagious. The viruses that cause gastroenteritis are spread by close contact with an infected person (for example, sharing foods, beverages, or utensils) or by eating or drinking contaminated food items or beverages. The infection symptoms usually begin one to two days after infection and can last up to 10 days (but, commonly last 24-48 hours in adults). You remain contagious for up to two weeks after recovery since you may still be “shedding” the infective virus in your stool. This makes hand washing vital.
– Food can be a source of spread of the stomach flu: for example, if restaurant workers do not wash hands regularly. Shellfish (especially oysters) from contaminated waters, particularly when eaten undercooked or raw, may also cause stomach flu.
– The major complication of the stomach flu can be dehydration (especially in very young children and the elderly). It is vital to keep hydrated. Watch for symptoms of dehydration including: excessive thirst, dry mouth, little or no urine or very dark urine, decreased tear production, light-headedness or dizziness, lethargy. Call you doctor immediately if you note these symptoms; especially in a young child.

– Hygiene is the number one method of prevention:
Wash your hands thoroughly after using the bathroom or changing a diaper
Wash your hands before eating
Disinfect counter tops and baby change tables
Avoid contaminated foods: drink boiled or bottled water when traveling to destinations in which sanitation is in question; avoid eating raw or undercooked foods (especially shellfish).
– General infection-preventing methods like eating a well-balanced, varied diet rich in antioxidants and taking a multivitamin and essential fatty acid supplement may also be helpful in reducing the risk of contracting the stomach flu.
– Zinc and Vitamin A deficiency can cause impaired immunity which may increase risk of viral infections in general, and gastroenteritis in specific. The same may be true for Vitamin C deficiency. Again, a varied, balanced diet as well as the addition of a multivitamin will help to prevent deficiency of these two important immune-supporting nutrients.

– Give your body plenty of rest; the symptoms of gastroenteritis can be exhausting!
– Avoid eating while symptoms are most intense. But continue to sip small amounts of clear liquid. Sucking on ice chips may be helpful, especially if you’re vomiting.
– Avoid all diary products and sugary beverages (like ginger ale and coke)- these worsen diarrhea. If you have an infant who is using dairy formula, you may want to switch to a hypoallergenic formula for a few days.
– Avoid anti-diarrheal drugs (like Imodium) – diarrhea is your body’s way of protecting itself and shedding the infective virus.
– The key to treatment is to avoid dehydration (loss of fluids, salts and minerals), especially in young children and the elderly. You can use an “oral rehydration solution” (like Pedialyte) or, in a bind, you can make your own:
Mix ½ a teaspoon of salt, ½ a teaspoon of baking soda, and 4 tablespoons of sugar with one quart of clean drinking water. Stir until dissolved. Offer teaspoons of the solution every five minutes until vomiting and diarrhea cease. If there is vomiting, wait ten minutes and give the solution again.
Breast milk and rice or barley water (also known as congee) can also be given.
– Depending on how you feel, you can begin to introduce some foods after about 24 hours. “BRATS” is the acronym we use for the bland foods which are easy to digest and are “binding”: bananas, rice (white), apple sauce, toast (dry), saltines (or similar crackers). Broths, boiled potatoes, noodles, oatmeal may also be good choices.
– Avoid caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, fatty foods, and spicy foods for several days after your symptoms end.
– You may want to try a homeopathic remedy: arsenicum album, ipecac, or nux vomica are key remedies in cases of diarrhea and vomiting. These can be taken in a 30C or 30 K posology.
– Probiotics (also known as acidophilus- although there are other species too) are key. These “friendly bacteria” are highly recommended during acute illness and the recover phase. Probiotics can shorten the duration of diarrhea and “repopulate” the gut with friendly bacteria. In fact, probiotics can decrease the risk of contracting viral gastroenteritis (especially in high risk populations- like hospitalized patients, those living in institutions, or those with compromised immune systems).
– Brewer’s yeast (Saccharomyces boulardii) has also been found to be helpful in preventing and treating diarrhea of different origins, including viral gastroenteritis.
– Carob powder can be used at home as a treatment for diarrhea. It has an astringent effect which reduces watery diarrhea. You can mix a tablespoon of carob powder with
applesauce to decrease the severity of diarrhea but be sure to never suppress diarrhea entirely.
– Ginger may be helpful in relieving nausea, vomiting, and abdominal cramps. You can brew your own ginger tea by placing a slice or two of fresh ginger root in hot water, covering the cup, and steeping for several minutes before drinking.
– Chamomile tea is also settling for the gastrointestinal tract.
– Just like in other viral infections, such herbs as Echinacea and Licorice (glycyrrhiza glabra) may be helpful as anti-viral medications. These should be taken under the guidance of an herbalist or naturopath.

Remember that infective gastroenteritis is self-limiting in most cases. This means that it will resolve on its own. Prevent infection in yourself and others by taking general precautions to good health and disease prevention and feel free to give any of the above naturopathic medicines a try.

Please Note: This information is for educational purposes only. Consultation with a licensed health care practitioner is recommended for anyone suffering from a health ailment. You are free to use the information in this newsletter or pass it on to others, but please keep it intact and credit it to Dr. Leat Kuzniar, ND.

Dr. Leat Kuzniar ND
Dr. Leat Kuzniar ND

Dr. Kuzniar is a board member of the New Jersey Association of Naturopathic Physicians and is also a member of the Gastroenterology Association of Naturopathic Physicians. She currently holds a State of Vermont Naturopathic Physician license (as New Jersey does not yet offer licensing for Naturopathic doctors).