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My 4-year-old woke up this morning, told me he “felt uncomfortable”, and went into the bathroom to throw up. First, I did my happy dance (because, hey, he threw up in the toilet instead of all over me like last time he got sick). Then, I came to terms with the fact that our house has likely been invaded by the stomach flu. Awesome.
When we’re talking about stomach flu, we’re usually talking about Norovirus, a highly contagious, hard-to-kill infection that causes vomiting and diarrhea.
Got a sick kid in your house, too? Here’s what you need to know to ease the symptoms, clean up the nastiness, and hopefully keep the bug from spreading to the rest of your family.
Table of Contents
What to do with the sick kid:
Encourage him to rest
If you’ve got a child that understands how important rest is for his immune system, who will willingly head to his bedroom to rest quietly until he feels better, I envy you.
Because we have children that believe naps are for wimps, we follow a strict “bed and iPad” protocol whenever the kids get ill. Letting the kiddo binge watch PJ Masks in bed all day is the most reliable way to keep him in one place.
Give him plenty of fluids
The biggest danger of the stomach flu is that your child might become dehydrated. Make sure he’s drinking plenty of fluids. (Have him take a sip every 20 minutes or so to make sure it will stay down). Water is good, but you also need to replace salt, sugar, and other minerals that are lost from vomiting and diarrhea.
Did you know you can make your own Pedialyte-style electrolyte replacement drink? Save yourself from expensive late-night trips to the drugstore and artificial colors and flavors. Our favorite kid-approved recipe is this one designed by Katie at Kitchen Stewardship. We use liquid stevia as the sweetener and sub 1/2 cup of orange juice + 2 tablespoons of lemon juice for the lemon-lime mixture in the recipe. My younger son asks for it even when he’s healthy.
Introduce food slowly
If your child is keeping down liquids ok, you can begin to introduce bland foods into the diet. Try giving a little bit of food every 20 minutes or so to see if it stays down.
What food qualifies as bland?
I think we’ve all heard of the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast). This diet won’t irritate the stomach, but it’s pretty lacking in nutrients, so it should be discontinued as soon as the child is feeling better. Move on to lean meat and cooked vegetables next, avoiding anything fried, fatty, spicy, or acidic.
Avoid the meds
If your child has a fever, it’s ok to give him some acetaminophen to bring it down according to WebMD. Otherwise, avoid medicines.
From WebMD, “Ibuprofen can upset your child’s stomach even more, and acetaminophen can cause liver problems. Antibiotics don’t help against viruses (although they do against bacteria). And anti-diarrhea or anti-vomiting medicines can make the infection last longer.”
Keep him home
Please keep your child home for 24-48 hours after his symptoms subside. He is probably still contagious, and the rest of us do not want his stomach flu.
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What to do to clean everything up:
Clothing and sheets
If your little sweetie has gotten vomit on his (or your) bedsheets or clothing, shake out the chunks (blech!) and launder separate from other clothing in hot water with a bit of bleach to sanitize everything.
If vomit has landed on your child’s beloved ‘stuffie’ it probably needs to be washed in the washing machine. Many stuffed animals specify “surface clean only”. (Why would a manufacturer do this?) Only you can decide if it’s worth the risk to wash it.
If you decide to put the stuffed animal in the washing machine, follow these steps:
- wipe off the big chunks
- put the animal in a pillowcase, and tie the case shut (This will protect it from the machine and assure that all the parts stay in one place if the toy falls apart.)
- wash in the machine on the gentle cycle, but in hot water to kill the germs
- Let the animal air dry. (Toss it in the dryer on the air fluff setting for 5-10 minutes if its fur looks matted.)
If vomit makes it into the carpet (ugh!) grab some rubber gloves, a plastic trash bag, and a scraper (a spoon, paper plate, or old credit card could work) and follow these steps:
- Use the scraper to scrape the vomit off of the carpet and into the bag.
- When all the big pieces are picked up (yuck!), dump baking soda on the spot.
- In about 15 minutes, the baking soda will absorb the liquid and the odor and you can vacuum the mess up. (Be sure to discard your vacuum bag afterwards).
- Next, dilute 1 part white vinegar with 1 part water and add to a spray bottle.
- Spray the area thoroughly and blot with towels until the carpet is dry.
- Repeat the spraying/drying process until no stain remains. (Should a stain remain after you’ve done this several times, you’ll likely need to rent a carpet cleaner or hire someone to come in and treat the spot for you.)
If your kiddo pukes on the couch, follow the scraping and baking soda steps outlined above. In order to treat the stain, you’re going to need to change up your approach based on your sofa’s material. Some fabrics can tolerate the vinegar and water solution suggested for use on the carpet. My microfiber couch is best served by using rubbing alcohol in the spray bottle instead. Other fabrics may require a dry-cleaning solvent made for upholstery.
Whichever method you use, make sure that you don’t soak the cushion too much. You don’t want to push the vomit further down into the cushion or cause mildew when the cushion won’t dry. Again, if all else fails, call in a professional.
Don’t forget to give yourself a treat mama. Seriously. Chocolate…wine…sparkle toots unicorn–your choice. Being the adult in the room when vomit is involved is rough duty.
What to do to keep the rest of your family well:
Try to quarantine your child as much as possible
Stomach flu is usually incredibly contagious, so you’ll want to keep the sick kid away from the rest of the family if at all possible.
I’m rolling my eyes at myself as I write this. My older son was lost without his little brother today and begged to be the person delivering crackers and homemade electrolyte drink to the patient. Also, my little Typhoid Mary called me over several times today “just to give me a hug and a kiss”. I expect big brother and I will both be puking tomorrow.
Wash your hands
You know this. Wash your hands (and encourage your kids to wash their hands) frequently to prevent germs from spreading. Remember to wash for at least 20 seconds. Hand sanitizer probably won’t cut it if you’re dealing with Norovirus.
Disinfect the surfaces in your home
In my probably-futile attempt to stave off illness, I’ve cleaned all the surfaces that the patient has touched (light switches, doorknobs, the toilet, etc.) several times today with Clorox Disinfecting Wipes. I ran the dishwasher using the sanitizing rinse setting, and I even tossed the boys’ toothbrushes in there since they share a bathroom.
I’m expecting that this is a run-of-the-mill 24-hour flu bug and that my little guy will be all better tomorrow. Most cases of Norovirus last no more than 72 hours.
If your child’s symptoms last more than 24 hours (or if your mama’s intuition says something is really wrong), it’s probably a good idea to call the pediatrician.
Mama, if you’re dealing with a stomach flu bug in your house right now, I’m sending you a big high-five and a ‘you got this’. I wish I could send a medal or a stiff drink instead…