The Worst Tummy Tamer
It’s really nice how I keep coming across great topics for this column! By which I mean I keep experiencing summer-themed health woes and passing my learning onto you. I’ve spent the last week laid up with a terrible bug, inspiring this week’s column: how to keep your stomach safe all summer.
I know, we’re all thinking of bikini-flat abs and how to lose 10 pounds quickly. Trust me, this is one way you don’t want to do it. It’s easy to end up sick with a bug this time of year, what with cookouts and water parks and everything else. Nothing’s worse than being laid up drinking Pepto while everyone else is at the beach with margaritas!
Gastroenteritis is stomach flu
First, it’s worth nothing that though we like to call it “stomach flu,” no such thing exists. Influenza, or “flu” is a cold-weather virus that affects the respiratory system and has nothing to do with what we call “stomach flu.” What we refer to as stomach flu is typically
Gastroenteritis isn’t a specific bacteria or virus, it’s the condition caused by whatever it is actually making you sick. It can be triggered by either of those, as well as parasites, spoiled food, unclean water or reactions to certain foods like lactose or gluten intolerance. So why must we be more careful in summer?
What causes it?
Some of the more common bugs that can cause gastroenteritis are e.Coli, salmonella and campylobacter. The most common way to get these bad boys is through food — either spoiled or poorly handled. Handling raw meat when distracted by an environment such as a cookout is a great way to spread germs. Just a momentary distraction of handling chicken and forgetting to wash your hands before picking up a kid or dropping a lemon in a drink can get you or your guests sick for days. Be sure when setting out dishes for picnics containing egg, meat or dairy that they are kept properly cool and not left out in the sun.
Hiking, canoeing and travel can all pose a similar threat when it comes to tummy bugs: parasites. More than just big nasties like tapeworms, parasites are more common than you might think. Common parasites like giardia live in contaminated water and are common if you travel to places where water treatment may not be common or as rigid as the standards you’re used to. Giardia infection can also be spread from person to person contact, as the parasite is microscopic and travels in cysts that cannot be seen to the naked eye. When it comes to international travel and camping trips — stick to bottled water.
Children are the most common victims of stomach bugs. Thirty to 40 percent of all stomach illnesses in children are caused by the highly contagious norovirus, rotovirus and adenovirus. Adults tend to stay out of schools and daycares where these are so commonly spread, but in the summertime, the kids are out to play and occasionally so are we! Water parks and public pools can easily spread a nasty case of stomach bug. Make sure you shower off after leaving the pool or water park to not only get harsh chlorine off your lovely skin and hair, but also to clean off any viruses that may be hitching a ride. And if you have kids, keep them away from the pool if they’ve experienced diarrhea or vomiting for at least 48 hours, as a kindness to all of us.
I followed your advice and I’m sick anyway
If all of your vigilance comes to nothing and you end up laid up with gastroenteritis anyway, dehydration is your primary concern. Stay hydrated with water and sports drinks, and stay away from any spicy or irritating foods until your inflammation is completely healed, lest you trigger a relapse. If you experience intense vomiting or diarrhea for more than 72 hours, head to the doctor. Typically, medical treatment for gastroenteritis involves suppositories or injections to stop the inflammation and spasming, followed by IV fluids to restore hydration.
Let your body heal and take it easy until you’re feeling 100 percent again. It’s not uncommon for gastro to leave you weak and sensitive to foods like alcohol and coffee for a while after you’re back in one piece. Use the time to work on your tan and catch up on some summer reading! And when you get back to it, remember: wash your hands!
Health editor, Tini Howard is a writer, aerialist and foodie from the East Coast.