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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Just like that, all of my day's plans changed

As I mentioned on facebook yesterday, one of my daughters came down with a stomach virus late Sunday afternoon. When you hear a family member gagging while running to the bathroom, you just know this is going to be bad. But such is this life.

Norovirus has been in the news, here in Seattle, as well as around other parts of the country this winter. University of Michigan has had a nasty outbreak of the virus in just the last couple of days. Norovirus is a highly contagious stomach virus, once rumored to be limited to cruise ships and other densely populated spots. But now it's popping up in office buildings, senior centers, schools, restaurants and shopping malls. Winter is peak season for its spread. So, I've been treating my daughter's illness as if it is norovirus, just to be on the safe side.

Prevention of spread of norovirus is essential

The key to preventing spread of the virus is isolating the patient, as soon as the first symptom is present, from the rest of the community (family, in our case), and keep them isolated for 1 or 2 days post symptoms, as the virus can still be spread, even when the patient begins to seem better, vigilance with personal hygiene (handwash, handwash, handwash -- more effective than hand sanitizer), and disinfecting all surfaces (textiles as well as hard surfaces) the patient could have spread germs through either direct contact or airborne particles, both while symptomatic and while seemingly well. The norovirus has a 1 to 2-day incubation period, meaning patients can transit the disease before the symptoms are obvious.

So, like I said, just like that, all of my day's plans changed.

My daughter shares a room with her sister. The first step was to set up a place where she could sleep and study, away from the patient. She moved into the family room for a couple of days. I've been designated as caretaker of the sick one, to prevent as few people as possible from falling ill.

Minimizing illness with the sick one

The main risk to norovirus is dehydration. One site I read said to wait 20 to 30 minutes after vomiting has ceased before introducing liquids (but of course, if vomiting persists beyond a few hours, or if the patient has other health complications, it's wise to seek a doctor's opinion early on). And then, only clear, non-acidic liquids. Orange juice is out (too acidic), apple juice is a maybe, if watered down in a 50/50 mix. Electrolyte solutions are good, especially ones like Pedialtyte. Watered down chicken broth is also recommended. And for some individuals, flat, non-caffeinated soda pop (like lemon-lime or ginger ale), in small amounts seems to help. You can speed up the rate at which soda pop loses its carbonation by pouring one glass into another, back and forth. I keep a 2-liter of lemon-lime soda in the back of the pantry for just this type of occasion.

So, we got my daughter through the night, on sips of flat lemon-lime soda. By morning, she was looking a bit better.

After seeing to her comfort in the morning, I set out to disinfect areas of the house where she had been, and get an early start on laundry. On facebook, I mentioned the CDC's recommendations for disinfecting, using chlorine bleach mixed with water, from about 1 teaspoon to 1  1/2 tablespoons of household bleach mixed with 1 cup of water. As the bleach doesn't have to be exact, I eyeballed, using the cap to the bleach container as a measuring spoon/cup, and poured into a glass measuring cup, then adding water. I dipped a rag into this solution and went around the house wiping off surfaces (CDC says to allow to air dry for 10 minutes). I did this every time my daughter got up. Also, the CDC says that alcohol-based hand sanitizers and 3% hydrogen peroxide are not as effective as chlorine bleach, against the norovirus.

Some things I may have overlooked, if it had not been for reading some info online:

  • wear gloves when cleaning, emptying the trash containers, picking up tissues and dishes, and while gathering clothing and linens for laundry
  • after taking off gloves, wash your hands again
  • wash textiles as well as hard surfaces, this includes bath rugs, mats, towels, bedding and clothing in hot water and tumble dry
  • run an empty cycle on the washing machine, using bleach in hot water to disinfect your washer. Norovirus can live inside your washing machine for a few days, after washing contaminated textiles.
  • the virus remains contagious even after symptoms have subsided, for a few days (as few as 3 to up to 2 weeks, according to the health department -- hygiene of the patient is so important, to prevent spread)
  • people who have norovirus should not prepare food for other people for at least 2 days after recovery
  • if you have a dishwashing machine, use it for all dishes, cutlery and glassware. If there's a sanitize or hi-temp function on your dishwasher, use it. Hand-washed dishes are more likely to harbor the virus, as most of us can't tolerate the high temperature necessary to kill it, while hand-washing our dishes.
  • replace all toothbrushes for family members who share the same bathroom as the patient (another good reason for buying super cheap toothbrushes from Dollar Tree -- I feel no regret having to use up an entire 6-count package of toothbrushes, due to this illness in the family)
  • although alcohol-based sanitizers are not as effective as bleach, it's better than nothing. So I kept a baggie of 91% isopropyl alcohol saturated paper towels on the bathroom counter, for my daughter to clean up any mess after herself, wipe off door knobs, flush handles and faucet handles, then dispose of the used towel, each time she used the bathroom. This meant I didn't have to get out the bleach after every single time she got up.

The post-vomiting diet (sorry, there's no nicer way to put that)

When it appeared that all of the really nasty symptoms were over . . .

I'm sure you've all heard clear liquids are best for someone with a stomach virus. But this doesn't have to be limited to beverages. It can include gelatin, popsicles and bowls of broth, for a change of pace. And towards the end of that first day, I do well adding rice milk to the round-up (but not soy, almond or dairy milk). For my daughter, I got a batch of blackberry gelatin started in the morning (using frozen blackberries, simmered with water for a couple of minutes, strained to use only the juice, then sweetened, and set with plain gelatin), and I set a cup of brown rice to soak, to make rice milk later in the day. I also found a quart of homemade chicken stock in the freezer, to season mildly, and serve for her lunch. I'll see how she's feeling by late afternoon. If she feels up to it, I'll make some rice milk pudding for her dinner, as pudding is one of her favorite foods, and made with rice milk it should be easy to digest.

If it seems that she handled those foods okay yesterday, then today I'll add to this menu, with a couple of items from the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, toast). I'll use the rice pulp from making homemade rice milk, to make a thin rice porridge for breakfast. And I'll make some applesauce from frozen apple chunks to go with chicken broth for lunch.

It's a lot of work, taking care of one family member who is sick. But one thing I do know, if others in the family get the same virus, it will be a whole lot more work for me. I'd rather put in my work, upfront, than drag this out for weeks.


  1. Oh no, Lili! I hope you daughter is feeling better soon and that you are able to get some rest. Good job on jumping on the isolation and sanitization early. That always makes me feel better when someone is sick, even if we are only dealing with a simple tummy ache.

    Thank you for sharing the information about cleaning up after norovirus. That incubation period is the real kicker -- I'd not realized how long the virus can live!

    Times like these make clear an additional advantage to having someone in the family/household devoted to the home. I imagine it's so nice for your daughter to have your support while she is sick and the rest of your family is able to move forward with their own routines with a lot less worry that they may get sick themselves.

  2. Sounds like we're in the same boat, Lili. My hubby came down with it last week and then Sunday my oldest daughter came down with it rather quickly. She was purging from both ends and it was a mess. We cleaned up after her with the bleach water and Dad washed all her linens, all towels, clothes yesterday. She is feeling a lot better and has been nibbling from the BRAT diet as well after having a day of electrolytes. I read it was important to move into regular meals as quickly as possible after feeling better so as to stay away from dehydration. My body is deciding if it wants to do something strange so I'm limiting my intake right now and eating very light. Not sure what the tummy is up to.


  3. These kind of sicknesses are the worst. I hope you have been able to contain it and no one else gets it. Good reminders about procedures even if the extremely contagious Noro virus is not involved.

  4. Hope your daughter is feeling much better now, and hope you can stay well too while first in line and putting out the fire. Good thinking to research and take precaution, and thank you for sharing what you have learned. So far, we don't hear any local news about this virus, but I think it may just be a matter of time. Every time we travel though we contract some kind of stomach virus. It's hard to keep sanitary in public places. Again thank you so much, for taking the time to share with us when you must be so exhausted. I don't know if this is good advice, but we always "spritz" our hands with 70 percent alcohol in one of those small lens cleaner spray bottle, first thing when returning to our car, before touching anything else.


  5. Oh no, I'm glad she is on the mend. That sounds like a terrible virus and you sound like you've been so busy. I hope you've contained it and no one else in the house gets it.

  6. Hope your daughter is soon on the mend! (and that the rest of you don't catch it).

    Just a thought ... I don't know how effective it is, but back when my mom had a family at home but couldn't afford a dishwasher, she always boiled a pot of water and poured it over the dishes in the dishdrainer to help kill the germs.

  7. One of the first foods we eat to get our stomachs working again is rice gruel, made with either brown or white medium grain rice (never tried making it with long grain). It is nice and warm, and easy on the stomach. Not only when we're sick, but we serve this "porridge" whenever we want to stretch leftover rice. It's OK served Asian style, with many pickled side dishes. I also enjoy this as a snack between meals.


  8. Oh no :( Thank you for sharing all your research. Stay well
    Take care of your self. Praying no one else will gets it.
    Have a good day.

  9. I hope your daughter is feeling better & no one else gets the virus.


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