Have you ever had the "stomach flu?" The symptoms are unforgettable but the name can be a little confusing because the word flu is technically associated to the influenza virus, which is an upper respiratory infection and does not affect the digestive track.
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What you probably had was gastroenteritis - not a type of flu at all. However, much like the flu, it was most likely caused by a virus. Gastroenteritis is an inflammation of the lining of the stomach and intestines. It is caused by a virus, bacteria, parasites, fungus, or chemicals.
Viral gastroenteritis is the second most common illness in the U.S. with outbreaks happening every fall through spring. It is more common in young children than adults, but anyone can get it anytime of the year.
Most of the time, the Norovirus, or the Rotavirus are the culprits of severe vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and abdominal pain. The symptoms in babies and toddlers tend to be more serious because of their developing immune systems.
Norovirus infection can cause the sudden onset of severe vomiting and diarrhea. The virus is highly contagious and commonly spread through food or water that is contaminated during preparation or contaminated surfaces.
Symptoms of the Norovirus typically begin 12-48 hours after exposure and last 1-3 days. The virus is still contagious for 2 more weeks due to viral shedding. Symptoms include diarrhea, abdominal pain, vomiting, headache, fever, and chills. Some people are contagious and have no symptoms.
Rotavirus is a very contagious virus that causes diarrhea. It's the most common cause of diarrhea in infants and children worldwide. Dehydration is a serious complication of rotavirus and a major cause of childhood deaths in developing countries.
A rotavirus infection usually starts within 2 days of exposure to the virus. Initial symptoms are a fever and vomiting, followed by 3-8 days of watery diarrhea. The infection can cause abdominal pain as well.
In adults who are otherwise healthy, a rotavirus infection may cause only mild signs and symptoms or none at all.
Most people recover completely with self care and hydration. They do not need any medical treatment. However, for some people — especially infants, older adults and people with underlying disease — vomiting and diarrhea can be severely dehydrating and require medical attention.
How These Viruses Spread
Rotavirus infections are the most common gastrointestinal pathogens present in crowded environments such as child care centers and schools. When it comes into the home they can infect the entire family.
Both of these viruses are highly contagious and spread through oral fecal contamination. It goes something like this: someone uses the bathroom or changes a diaper and they wash their hands, but not good enough. They touch an object, then you touch that same object, and then put your hand to your mouth.
- Throughly wash your hands with soap and water after using the toilet or diaper changes
- Thoroughly clean all surfaces
- Drink clean water
- Wash fruits and vegetables in clean water or a natural veggie rinse
- Throughly cook your food
- Avoid food prepared by a sick person
- Avoid buffets. The food stays out for a long time and multiple people touch the utensil handles
- Isolate the sick person
How to Manage Viral GastroenteritisAntibiotics, antiviral medications, nor anti diarrheal medications are helpful for the Rotavirus. That leaves supportive measures and home remedies to help manage the symptoms.
- If your baby is sick, offer small amounts of rehydration fluid to help replace the lost minerals more effectively than water. If you're breast-feeding, continue to nurse your baby.
- If your baby drinks formula, offer a small amount of an oral rehydration fluid or regular formula. Consider switching from dairy formula. Don't dilute your baby's formula.
- You can give Stomach Soother herbal extract to help calm the symptoms by placing 1 drop per 5 pounds of body weight in their mouth or in a bottle.
- For older children you can give them Activated Charcoal to help neutralize their stomach and absorb the pathogens.
- If your older child can hold down food give them simple, easy to digest foods like crackers and burnt toast. The black part of the burned toast is like Activated Charcoal.
- Bone, chicken, or vegetable broth.
- Get plenty of fluids like tea, water, coconut water, diluted juice, or the natural rehydration electrolyte drink recipe below. Avoid soda, sugary apple juice, and dairy products because they can worsen the diarrhea.
- Avoid anything irritating to the stomach like caffeine, alcohol, or spicy and greasy foods.
After the illness take probiotics to reestablish healthy gut flora.
Other Care Taking Tips For Gastroenteritis
Even after you think everything has settled down and the vomiting has stopped, place at least two towels under the sick person as they sleep. If there is another incident you can easily remove one towel and clean it up while they are still resting and you don’t have to change the bed sheets right away.
Tag team care taking and laundry. One of the biggest challenges is not just taking care of your child when they are vomiting, but keeping up with the laundry.
Get support to help keep the house clean and the liquid diet replenished.
It’s Important to listen to our kids when they’re sick. If they don’t feel like eating that is their way of communicating how they feel. It’s ok to let their bodies use energy to fight the infection instead of digesting food! But they do need to stay hydrated so their organs and immune system can do their job.
As I previously mentioned, the most common problem with these viral infections is dehydration. This happens if you do not drink enough fluids to replace what you lose through vomiting and diarrhea. Dehydration is most common in babies, young children, older adults, and people with weak immune systems.
Methods of Oral Rehydration Therapy That Isn’t Just Water
Here are a few ideas to keep everyone hydrated with enough carbohydrates, proteins, and minerals. Making your own oral rehydration electrolyte drinks, popsicles, and natural Jello at home is easy to do. In your herbal kitchen you can add supportive herbs to make your oral rehydration therapy more medicinal. Plus, yours won’t have any refined sugars, artificial flavors, or additives! Here are a few recipes.
DIY Better-than-Pedialyte Natural Electrolyte Drink
Any time that dehydration is a risk you need to make a natural DIY electrolyte drink. Commercial and electrolyte drinks like Pedialyte and Gatoraide are filled with sugar, artificial colors and flavors. Ideally you want to support your child’s body while it recovers from the stomach bug in a healthy way. Making your own electrolyte drink as an alternative to commercial rehydration drinks is easy. Here’s my quick herbal rehydration drink recipe for a better-than-Pedialyte drink. It is a blend of detoxifying lemon, mineral rich maple syrup, energy giving chlorophyll and sea salt.
This recipe makes a pint mason jar. Most young children will not be able to drink this amount in one day when they are sick and vomiting. It is a good amount to make fresh for them to sip on in small amounts during the day.
You can also turn this into all natural electrolyte popsicles that are perfect for sore throats caused by vomiting.
- 1 ½-2 cups water
- Juice of ½ lemon
- 2 tsp Grade A Maple Syrup
- 1/8 to 1/4 tsp real sea salt or Himalayan salt.
- 5-10 drops of Energizing Chlorophyll
- 5-10 drops of Stomach Soother
Simply mix everything into a pint mason jar with a lid and shake well to combine. You can double the amount if you have older kids by making in a quart size jar. Remember to make enough for you, too!
Spoon feed or give small sips every 15-30 minutes.
Store in the fridge for a few days.
Herbal Rehydrating Electrolyte Popsicles
Popsicles are a great way to prevent dehydration and keep fluids down when someone is vomiting and has loose stool. To make rehydrating popsicles you can simply follow the above recipe and pour into popsicle molds or ice trays. Or, you can enhance them by making herbal popsicles with immune boosting elderberries. I encourage you to get creative and blend your own favorite flavors.
- 2 cups of Immune Tea or Elderberry Tea
- or make
- 1 cup herbal tea and combine it with1 cup of berry juice, (cranberry, blueberry, grape, pomegranate)
- Juice of ½ lemon
- 2 tsp Grade A Maple Syrup
- 1/8 to 1/4 tsp Real sea salt or Himalayan salt.
- 5-10 drops of Energizing Chlorophyll
- 5-10 drops of Stomach Soother (optional if you are already adding herbal tea)
Young children may not be able to finish the whole popsicle so you might want to make them small like ice cubes.
Keep it simple, play around with the blend, use the ingredients you already have in your kitchen. Usually the most basic recipe is the best while they are actively sick.
Natural Jello Made with Healthy Gelatin
Gelatin is a great source of easily digestible protein and is known to benefit digestion and reduce inflammation of the stomach and the intestines. Gelatin is a popular component to gut health protocols because it coats the small intestines soothing the irritation and abdominal discomfort. Gelatins amino acids make it a highly nutritious food that is free of many allergens such as soy, dairy, gluten, eggs, nuts, and fish. However, it’s made from beef and contains Alpha-gal and is not vegan.
- 2 cups berry juice, (Cranberry, Raspberry, Pomegranate, blueberry)
- 1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin (grain-fed natural beef)
- 1 tablespoon sugar (maple syrup)(optional)
- 10 drops chlorophyl
- 1/2 cup fresh fruit (optional)
- Pour 1 cup of the juice into a medium heatproof bowl.
- Sprinkle gelatin over juice and dissolve; set aside for at least 5 minutes.
- Combine remaining 1 cup juice and sugar (syrup) in a small saucepan.
- Bring just to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat.
- Add 10 drops of Energizing Chlorophyll to the juice
- Pour hot juice mixture into gelatin mixture and stir to combine. Transfer to individual serving bowls or one medium bowl.
- Add fruit (optional) and refrigerate for 4 hours or until firm.
Why Should you Add Energizing Chlorophyll?
Chlorophyll is an almost tasteless herbal extract that has the slightest hint of peppermint flavor. It is rich in vitamins and minerals. It can support a healthy immune system and gut health. When a person feels run down, and depleted it can help build up and restore the body. A few drops can really enhance an electrolyte drink so you or your child can feel stronger faster.
Why Add Stomach Soother?
Stomach Soother is a blend of digestive herbs. While there is no better solution than letting the virus run it’s course, the herbs can help with the abdominal pain, quail nausea, and help improve digestion and absorption once you are able to hold food and fluid down.
What About Elderberry and Immune Tea?
Elderberry is an antiviral herb high in antioxidants that supports the bodies natural ability to fight infections and recover quickly. Immune Tea is blended with Elderberry, Echinacea, Chamomile Flowers and Peppermint. These herbs support the digestive track and gut health.
Questions to Ask Yourself As You Are Caring for Your Sick Child
- When did symptoms begin?
- Have the symptoms been continuous, or do they come and go?
- How severe are the symptoms?
- Does anything seem to improve the symptoms?
- What, if anything, appears to worsen symptoms?
When to See a Doctor
Most of the time these types of illnesses can resolve themselves without medical attention. However, please call your child's doctor if your child:
- Has diarrhea or vomiting for more than 24 hours
- Has black or tarry stool or stool containing blood or pus
- Has a temperature of 104 F (40 C) or higher
- Seems lethargic, irritable, or in pain
- Has signs or symptoms of dehydration, including dry mouth, crying without tears, little or no urination, unusual sleepiness, or unresponsiveness
If you're an adult, call your doctor if you:
- Can't keep liquids down for 24 hours
- Have diarrhea for more than two days
- Have blood in your vomit or bowel movements
- Have a temperature higher than 103 F (39.4 C)
- Have signs or symptoms of dehydration, including excessive thirst, dry mouth, little or no urination, severe weakness, dizziness on standing, or lightheadedness
This is a part of our immune health series. See related blog post and videos.
This post is for educational purposes only. Please utilize this information wisely. What you do with this information is entirely your personal responsibility.
References: Mayo Clinic
Epidemiology and prevention of vaccine-preventable diseases: Rotavirus. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/pinkbook/rota.html. Accessed Jan. 29, 2019.
Estimated rotavirus deaths for children under 5 years of age: 2013, 215 000. World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/immunization/monitoring_surveillance/burden/estimates/rotavirus/en/. Accessed Feb. 12,
Rotavirus. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/rotavirus/index.html. Accessed Feb. 1, 2019.
Norovirus: Technical fact sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/norovirus/index.html. Accessed Nov. 15, 2016.