CONSULT November 2018

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What to do, where to seek help when ‘tummy viruses’ strike

Published on Thursday, November 8, 2018

By: Annie Oeth

Stomach bugs may feel like medical emergencies, but most of the time they are not serious, medical experts at the University of Mississippi Medical Center say.

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Still, precautions should be taken to make sure stomach virus sufferers don’t become dehydrated, said Dr. Sara Weisenberger, director of the Children’s of Mississippi Complex Care Clinic at the Jackson Medical Mall Thad Cochran Center.

“Small amounts of clear liquids at first will help patients stay hydrated,” Weisenberger said. “Stay away from sweet drinks, such as fruit juice, and milk, but drink clear liquids, such as Pedialyte or Gatorade.”


Sometimes called stomach flu, this malady isn’t influenza, nor is it caused by the influenza virus, said Dr. April Palmer, UMMC professor of pediatric infectious diseases.

The usual culprits that cause the short-lived nausea and vomiting are viruses such as rotavirus, adenovirus and norovirus, she said. In the U.S., babies are now vaccinated against rotavirus, which spreads easily among infants and young children.

“The best way to prevent the spread of these viruses is to wash hands before eating, after using the bathroom and after playing with animals,” Palmer said. “Parents with young children should wash hands after changing diapers.”

Though stomach bugs can make their unfortunate victims feel awful, thankfully, they usually don’t last long.

“They can last a day or up to several days,” Weisenberger said.

Drugs such as Zofran, which is used to combat nausea and vomiting, are available in prescription form, but often stomach bugs can simply be endured.

Some over-the-counter anti-diarrheal drugs can cause younger patients to become constipated, Weisenberger said. She said parents should ask their pediatricians or pharmacists what they would recommend.

A daylong bout with the stomach flu isn’t necessarily worthy of a visit to a primary care provider or emergency room, but some symptoms can signal when it’s time to seek help.

“Blood in a stool is a cause for concern,” Weisenberger said, “as is a persistent fever.”

If more than six hours go by without a need to urinate, that may be a sign of dehydration and an indication that a visit to the doctor is needed, Palmer said.

“If you have an infant who is crying but not producing tears or has a soft spot that is sunken in, see a doctor immediately,” she said. “The younger a child is, the faster that child can become dehydrated.”

Not every condition that acts like a stomach virus is one, Palmer said. Other cases of gastroenteritis could be caused by bacteria through food poisoning. Signs of a more serious disease may include abdominal pain, back pain, big changes in behavior and a severe headache.

When in doubt, Palmer said, visit a primary care provider.