Angela Kerchner MD, ABFM, ABIHM

Family, Integrative & Holistic Medicine Resources for the Whole Family   

Some people call it the "stomach flu," but it is not actually related to the influenza or "flu," virus.  Doctors may say you have gastroenteritis, which is a generic term for any bug that causes these symptoms.

Norovirus causes vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps and body aches. It is highly contagious, and is absolutely no fun at all.

There are NO prescription medicines that will cure norovirus. It is a virus, so antibiotics will not help. Unfortunately, even if you have had it once, you can catch norovirus again, so it is really important to follow some steps to avoid spreading the infection or re-infecting yourself.

The best thing to do is prevent getting sick by: 

- Washing hands often!

- Keep bathrooms clean (especially if someone in your home is ill).

-Wash all fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating.

- Take care to cook shellfish properly (quick steaming may not be enough to kill the virus).

- Try oregano oil. Studies show oregano oil kills norovirus on contact. Be very careful using the oil. It is potent and can cause serious side effects if not used appropriately (see post on safety with oregano oil for more information). 

- Eat healthy foods. Nourishing your body with a full variety of vitamins and minerals will keep your immune system strong! 

If you do get sick: 

- Help keep others well by staying home. Don't spread your germs!

- The illness typically lasts 1-3 days, but you will continue to be contagious for up to 2 weeks after you feel better. Keep washing those hands, especially after using the bathroom and before preparing meals.

The most important thing to do whenever you are throwing up or have diarrhea is to prevent dehydration. 

- Using Pedialyte, oral rehydration salts, broth, diluted lemon juice, and other non-caffeinated beverages can all help prevent dehydration. Goal: replace what comes out.

- Sugar can make dehydration worse. Try to avoid sweet drinks if possible. If sweet fluids are the only thing you can keep down, then just do your best. 

- If you drink quickly, you will probably throw up. Take very small (1-3 teaspoons) sips often (every 10-15 minutes while awake) to decrease the risk of dehydration. Taking small sips helps your body absorb some of the fluid even before it gets to your stomach and helps you not to throw it all back up.

- If eating makes you feel worse, don't eat. Drinking is more important. Your body will let you know when you are ready to eat again. Listen to your body.

- Peppermint & ginger have both been found to be as good as many anti-nausea drugs in clinical trials. Try adding peppermint and/or ginger tea to your sipping regimen. (Make sure teas contain real peppermint or real ginger). You might also try sucking on candies containing these ingredients (real, not artificial flavor).

- Peppermint essential oil, diluted in a carrier oil and applied to the skin may also help with nausea and throwing up. 

- Oregano oil has been shown to kill norovirus, but should be used with caution, especially in children. Do not use if pregnant or nursing (see separate post on oregano oil).

- Acetaminophen (Tylenol) can help decrease stomach cramps. It comes in suppository form (up the bum) if you can't keep it down. 650mg every 4-6 hours for those over age 12 is a good dose. Check with your doctor for dosing recommendations for younger children.

Dehydration is a cause for concern and reason to call your doctor. Signs of dehydration include:

- Peeing less than 3 times per day. If this is happening, try to take more sips, more often.

- Very dry mouth that does not get better with drinking.

- "Tenting" of the skin (especially in children). This means that when you pinch the skin on the back of the hand, it does not go back to its normal shape when you let go, but stays up , "like a tent."

- Fainting 

People at risk for complications from a viral infection or dehydration should see a doctor sooner rather than later. If you aren't sure, call your doctor and ask. I become most concerned about babies, the elderly, and people who have other serous illnesses such as diabetes (especially if you require insulin) or cancer (especially if using chemotherapy or radiation). 

For most otherwise healthy older children and adults, the virus will work its way through in a day or two. It is far from fun, but going to see a doctor will not likely change the outcome. Of course, if you are concerned, call. In the case of healthy people, it is rarely helpful to see a doctor early on in the illness (less than 12-24 hours). 

There are always exceptions to the rules, so if in doubt, get checked out!

Angela Kerchner M.D.

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