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Gastric flu or Tummy bug

Aug. 25, 2016

Our sympathies go out to all those poor people in Hawkes Bay who have had terrible infections as a consequence of an infected water supply, and we must count our blessings that here in New Zealand we can normally take a safe water supply for granted.

Infections of the bowel are known as gastroenteritis and commonly cause a combination of abdominal pain, diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting and fever. Mostly these infections are short lived and resolve spontaneously, however the frail and the young are particularly vulnerable to the dehydration associated with them. 1 in 5 adults are estimated to get a gastroenteritis bug each year. Whilst some infections pass in hours, others can take days or even weeks.

Infections can be viral (especially in children), bacterial (e.g. salmonella, campylobacter) or caused by a toxin produced by some bacteria. These infections are all easily spread and are highly contagious. They spread very quickly between small children and can inadvertently be spread by food handlers with poor hygiene.

What should you do if you get a tummy bug?

The first thing to do is stay at home and practice very good hand hygiene to avoid spreading it to others. If your profession involves handling food it is imperative that you take time off until your symptoms have been better for 48 hours. Children should stay away from school for at least 48 hours too.

It is very important to keep drinking fluids to prevent dehydration. It does not matter if you vomit afterwards, some of the fluid will get absorbed. We recommend small sips frequently rather than trying to drink a large volume in one go. Oral rehydration salts are the ideal rehydration fluid, for example Pedialyte or Gastrolyte which you can get from the pharmacy. They are the right sugar/salt concentration to be best absorbed by an inflamed bowel. Sugary fluids can increase diarrhoea, so the old fashioned advice to drink flat lemonade is not now recommended. Definitely avoid carbonated drinks and milk. However, in the case of small children, any fluid is better than no fluid and it can be very hard to persuade little ones to drink salty oral rehydration salts. The aim is to ensure that you are hydrated enough that you can pass urine every 3-4 hours. Please see the attached advice sheet, Oral Rehydration in Children, for more detailed advice about managing rehydration in little ones.

We do not usually recommend medication to stop diarrhoea. It is better to let your body flush out all the bugs, and if possible just stay near a toilet. If you have to travel, then medication such as loperamide can calm the diarrhoea down temporarily.

If nausea or vomiting are severe we can prescribe medication to lessen them, however they are not required routinely.

Tummy pain is not really helped by paracetamol – a hot water bottle may be more effective. However, paracetamol may be useful if you have a very high temperature. If you are dehydrated do not use anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen or diclofenac which are toxic to dehydrated kidneys.

Only eat if you feel like it. Avoid fatty food or too much fibre which may exacerbate the diarrhoea. Stick with bland carbohydrates such as toast, crackers or rice.

Come in and see us if you feel that you are becoming dehydrated, very unwell or if the symptoms are persisting. We may give intravenous fluids or arrange stool tests to find out what is causing your infection. Rarely antibiotics may be required. Let our reception staff know if you are feeling unwell and you can be seated on the chairs near the toilet whilst you wait to be seen. Our nurses will also provide bowls or sick bags if required.

For further information, click on the following links: -