11 ways to avoid the stomach flu

Chris Kirk

Photo by Flickr user Svenstorm. Licensed under Creative Commons.

Stuffed nose? Fevers? Chills?


What really sucks about the flu season is the stomach flu. There are few experiences in life more unpleasant than relieving your stomach of your dinner, especially if it included your (former) favorite food.

Fortunately, you can protect yourself and your penchant for spaghetti.

As a former and still-sort-of emetophobe, I consider myself an expert on avoiding norovirus, a virus that accounts for 90 percent of all cases of the stomach flu.

Follow these tips, and you’ll get through this season vomit-free.

Well, at least vomit from the flu.

1. Wash your hands often – don’t just sanitize them.

The norovirus is resistant to many hand sanitizers because these sanitizers do not contain chlorine. Be sure to wash your hands or use a santizer that contains chlorine.

Even hands as good-looking as these can be washed.

Photo by Flickr user Arlington County. Licensed under Creative Commons.

2. Always wash your hands before eating.

The only way norovirus can infect you is if you ingest it. One of the easiest way to ingest it is to eat food that you’ve touched if your hands have picked up virus particles from a doorknob or counter.

If you think you can prudently manage a bunch of napkins in such a way that you never touch your burger, you’re wrong; that takes years of experience as a germophobe.

3. Do not touch your mouth or nose. EVER.

If you touch something that has the virus on it and then wipe your mouth or nose with your hand, you may accidentally give yoruself the virus.

4. Stay far, far away from people who have the stomach flu.

When people with the illness vomit, they project the virus into the air around them. It can then easily infect people nearby, which is why you should also follow the next rule.

5. Do not take care of people with the illness.

It may wrench your heart, but do not “be there” for people with the illness. Do not pat their back while they agonize.

If you feel the need to help, text them some tips like this: “drink lots of water, kk?” Call them to check on them. Bring them whatever they need, but leave it at the door.

Otherwise, you run a considerable risk of getting sick yourself and then spreading it to other people who want to be there for you.

Alternatively, don’t have friends.

6. Avoid people who have had the stomach flu for at least three days and maybe up to two weeks.

People remain contagious three days after they begin feeling ill. Some may be contagious for two weeks.

Norovirus contagion is all about touch. If recent flu sufferers do not wash their hands after using the bathroom, they can transmit the virus to you through physical contact.

You can also get it by touching an object, such as a door handle, that they’ve touched with unwashed hands.

Don’t worry. You can see your girlfriend again soon. It’s her fault she got so sick.

Photo by Flickr user sun dazed. Licensed under Creative Commons.

7. When you eat, be careful what you touch.

Do not touch ketchup or mustard bottles or pepper shakers or salt shakers while eating. Apply condiments before washing your hands. People touch these things regularly, but not all people wash their hands.

Rule of thumb: don’t touch anything between washing your hands and eating except your utensils and your food.

8. Do not touch the bathroom doorknob on your way out.

If people who have had norovirus in the last two weeks don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom and then touch the door handle, they can leave the virus onto that handle, where it can survive for up to 12 hours. Use a paper towel to open the door.

A doorknob. Gross.

Photo by Flickr user quinn.anya. Licensed under Creative Commons.

9. Stay out of places where people have vomited.

When the virus is projected into the air, it settles on nearby surfaces. If you touch these surfaces and then touch your mouth, the virus can infect you.

The virus can survive for up to 12 hours on hard surfaces and 12 days inside carpet.

Rule of thumb: if somebody has had the stomach flu in your apartment or dorm, stay out of his or her room for two weeks.

If you need to be in a particular place in which a person has vomited, follow the next rule.

10. Clean surfaces with chlorine-based disinfectants.

Because the norovirus is resistant to alcohol-based disinfectants, you must use chlorine wipes or chlorine bleach.

Start wiping.

11. Be reclusive.

If it seems like your dorm or apartment building is the site of a flu epidemic, and you really don’t want the stomach flu, it’s time to hunker down and wait it out.

And if you’ve been avoiding your friends for weeks because one had the stomach flu and you’ve been lecturing people in the bathroom about good hygiene, chances are nobody will want to see you anyway.

So everybody wins!

Your health is precious.

Photo by Flickr user _iBaNe_. Licensed under Creative Commons.