Tummy bugs, stomach ‘flu, sickness bugs – whatever you call them, they are the absolute pits! I can remember when our daughter was 3 months old and she contracted a bug (from goodness knows where!) and then passed it on to her unsuspecting Mama, I was absolutely horrified! I hadn’t been sick in, probably, 20 years and, as an adult, had prided myself on my ability to avoid sickness. If I felt queasy, I would lie down for however long it took and ‘deep breathe’ until the feeling passed, focusing only on avoiding the need to throw up. Well, not this time! This bug swept through my system with such alarming violence, I couldn’t remember ever having experienced anything so hideous! (And, let’s bear in mind, I had recently given birth!!)
Now, 12 years later, I feel I can tell you with some authority – if there’s a bug in your system, it cannot be avoided!! BUT, if you haven’t already ingested it, it IS POSSIBLE to escape! (Not always, but sometimes!)
It is my belief that after 12 years of fighting the battle against bugs, I can now describe myself as something of an expert on this subject and with stomach bug season just around the corner, I am here today to pass on my years of hard-earned experience and help you run the stomach bug gauntlet! You may wish to look away now if you are of a sensitive disposition (or you are eating)!!
Some of you may find this un-savoury but if you’re anything like me, when you get a bug in your home, you’ll go to some pretty ridiculous lengths to avoid it! So, here goes, my best attempt at avoiding a stomach bug goes something like this…
1. If someone in your house is sick, isolate them!
Your child has just announced they are going to be sick and, with little or no warning, unleashes a spectacular quantity of vomit in such a violent fashion, you will wonder how their little body ever contained so much!! What you do next could make the difference between 24 hours of caring for your poor sick child and an entire week of carnage that takes down every man, woman and child in your household.
This is the time to set up your ‘quarantine zone’. Think of everything you do from here on as a battle. You are waging a war against germs! I know, I know. When the children are small it is virtually impossible to contain them but, even if you have to give up your living room to the infected party, it’s worth it not to be next in line!
Obviously, as a Mother, you are probably most at risk (hey, let’s face it, you probably just kissed that contaminated little mouth!) You will obviously have to spend a fair amount of time in the ‘contamination area’ dealing with the ‘fall-out’ but if you can keep the rest of the family away, do it. The fewer people that come into contact with the bug, the better! (I find falling to my knees with arms raised and shouting ‘save yourselves‘ is the best, and least dramatic way to achieve this!)
2. When cleaning up vomit, try to contain the germs (obvs!)
This is rather stating the obvious, but, sometimes it’s easy to forget how efficiently those pesky germs travel! Try hard to think about every part of you that may have come into contact with them. Did you perhaps step in some vomit and then walk to the bathroom? Did you have to carry bedding to the washing machine? Has the patient had to make a dash for the toilet?! All of those things will have spread germs around your house. My best advice is to create a ‘germ barrier’ in the form of a towel across the floor at the door of your ‘quarantine zone’. On the infected side of the towel, wear some flip flops or slippers and when you reach the towel, take the footwear off and walk bare-foot. If you can’t do this straight away, do it as soon as possible and then clean all the affected areas.
Likewise, if your hands have touched infected articles, don’t touch ANYTHING else until you have washed them (with antibacterial soap!) I find the best way to avoid getting germs back on to your hands is to apply soap and make a lather, then, while you have the soap on your hands, rub your hands over the tap to clean it (water still running) and then rub your hands together to make a lather again before rinsing the tap, then your hands. When the tap is clean, turn it off. Use a clean towel to dry your hands and keep that towel just for you.
3. Immediately assign a clean towel to everyone in the house.
You are going to need A LOT of clean towels. If you don’t have a plentiful supply, get a load in the machine now and break out the tumble dryer, this is no time for energy conservation. (We’re at war remember?! It’s every man for himself!) If you have more than one bathroom, assign one to the infected party and the other to everyone else. But make sure they are all still using separate towels. If you only have one bathroom, clean it with bleach every time the patient has been ill. Then, wash your hands (and use your own towel).
4. Surround the patient’s sick bed with towels for ease of clean up.
Did I mention you’re going to need a lot of towels? If you can protect the immediate area around the patient, you will save yourself valuable clean up time if your patient can’t quite be trusted to get their aim right. Let’s be honest, no-one wants to be scraping vomit off the carpet at 3am with a dustpan! Replace dirty towels with clean ones as soon as possible ready for the next instalment. Then, wash your hands.
5. If a child is sick on their bedding, get the whole lot straight in the washing machine.
Duvet and all. Wash it once, remove it, take it outside, shake it off, clean out the washing machine with antibacterial wipes, put everything back in and wash it all again. Then WASH YOUR HANDS!
6. If your patient can’t make it to the bathroom every time they are ill, allocate a sick bowl and clean it with bleach (inside and out) each time it’s used.
When you are done cleaning up, clean the toilet, flush, sink, taps, soap dispenser, door handles and light switches. Return the bowl to the patient. Wash your hands. AGAIN.
7. Stock up on kitchen towel, anti-bacterial hand soap, wipes, bleach and disinfectant spray.
These items are now your best friend. Once the infected party is settled, send someone out for supplies (or beg a friend or family member to bring them to your doorstep) and get to work cleaning every surface you can think your patient may have touched with an anti-bacterial wipe (or, if you don’t have them, a clean cloth sprayed with antibacterial spray). I’m talking EVERY surface. Think door handles, toys, telephones, remote controls, light switches, cupboard doors, taps, flushes, computers and anything else you can think of. When you finish, wash your hands.
8. If your patient really needs to drink, give them 7up!
This is a strange one I know! When I was about 11, my Dad came down with a horrendous case of food poisoning on the last day of our holiday in Cyprus. He was so ill, but we were scheduled to fly home and he had no choice but to drag himself out of our hotel room and onto the coach to the airport. Unfortunately, we hadn’t made it to the airport when he was ill again – on the coach – into a small carrier bag frantically emptied by a fellow passenger to help contain the ‘situation.’
Sadly, the coach driver, presumably believing my Dad had been out on the town the night before, pulled the coach over and slung poor Dad along with my Mum, my two sisters and myself unceremoniously out onto the side of the motorway with plenty of shouting and some less than pleasant hand gestures! He threw our cases after us and we were left abandoned in the 40 degree heat with no idea where we were or how we would get to the airport. And since this was in the days before mobile phones, we simply stood around waiting for poor Dad to finish being ill so he could tell us what to do next!!
Thank goodness, moments later, a wonderful Cypriot taxi driver pulled over and offered to drive us to the airport. He was surely an angel sent to us from heaven because he wouldn’t hear of accepting any money for the journey and, drove us to a nearby shop where he bought my Dad cans of cold 7up and made him drink insisting this was the best thing to settle a stomach. And it turns out, he wasn’t far wrong! My family has relied on the cold 7up method ever since! It seems to stay put when nothing else will (though of course, there is always a small window where everything and anything will come back up. You do need to prevent dehydration however, and cold 7up seems to do the trick better than most things in our experience). Do remember though, tiny sips every now and then. If you gulp it down, you will definitely be seeing it again very soon!
9. Wash your hands EVERY TIME you touch ANYTHING! (And have everyone else do the same.)
Are you seeing a pattern emerge here? My husband was always very blasé about the hand-washing thing. He must have an iron constitution because for several years, he managed to avoid the bugs. However, when our son was 2, the poor little lamb contracted one of the meanest bugs we have ever encountered. It made itself violently apparent during the speeches at my sister’s Christmas wedding. Hubby and I quietly cleaned up the sea of vomit splattered on and around the designer shoes and evening gowns of our perplexed fellow guests and made a stealth (and red-faced) retreat to our hotel room.
My husband (bless his heart) insisted I return to the wedding downstairs and spent the next 12 hours working his way through every towel in the entire hotel while our poor baby brought up what appeared to be everything he had ever eaten. When the hotel manager explained at 2am that there were no more towels, hubby drove our son home and looked after him alone until I was able to return with our little 4-year-old bridesmaid the following morning.
It was almost inevitable then, that my husband contracted this evil germ and spent most of his Christmas break enduring the consequences. Since then, he’s been much more willing on the hand-washing front whenever there’s a bug about!!
10. Don’t lower your defences just because the first patient is feeling better.
This is a rookie mistake. 24 hours after the bug has passed, it will lure you into thinking that you are in the clear. Patient zero will be feeling 100% again and you will feel like the dark days have passed. You will be tempted to ease off on the crazy-lady bleaching you’ve been doing and abandon your stringent hand-washing regime. STAY AWAY FROM THE LIGHT!! This is when you are most vulnerable. Accept it. The war is not over. There has just been a temporary cease-fire. You need to be on guard! The reason? Someone in your house is probably incubating the bug! The last thing you want to do is invite it in! I find it best not to relax the bug busting efforts for at least 48 hours after the last incident of illness. And preferably, add another 24 hours onto that. We have gone as long as 60 hours between one person and the next contracting a bug and I’m convinced it was passed on long after the last episode of vomiting had occurred.
11. Keep your germs away from others!
Guidelines recommend leaving a period of 48 hours from the last incident of vomiting or diarrhoea before sending your child back to school. So yes, if your child is sick for 48 hours and then spends another 24 hours stuck to the toilet, they will need to have an entire week off school. (And if you have several children, or, God-forbid, you get the bug too, it could be a long time before the whole family is back to normal.) I know this is a horrific thought (especially for all of us working Mums whose relatives understandably won’t come within 100 miles of us when there’s a bug in the house) BUT it is so important to break the cycle of these bugs by making sure you are not passing them on to other unsuspecting families just like yours! And if your boss is getting tetchy, just offer to bring the bug to work with you! I’m sure they won’t be quite so keen to get you back next time!
Please note that this advice is purely the result of our personal experiences and in no-way guarantees the avoidance of stomach bugs! Do you have any super-star tips for attempting to avoid the bugs? Please, tell me! I’d love to hear them!
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