People typically develop stomach bug symptoms within 24 to 72 hours of being exposed to the virus. Picture: Pexels / Sora Shimazaki
People typically develop stomach bug symptoms within 24 to 72 hours of being exposed to the virus. Picture: Pexels / Sora Shimazaki

Suffering from the dreaded stomach bug? Here’s what to do

By Viwe Ndongeni-Ntlebi Time of article published Mar 4, 2021

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Some Cape Town residents have reported that there may be a stomach bug spreading across the metro.

School WhatsApp groups have been issuing warnings about the bug and many parents have said to have experienced the bug in their homes.

However, the City of Cape Town says its data suggests otherwise.

According to the MMC: Community Services & Health, Zahid Badroodien, there has been a notable decline in diarrhoea, pneumonia cases and hospital admissions this year.

Surge season data tracks cases of diarrhoea, pneumonia and severe acute malnutrition in young children.

“While we are only halfway through the season, we expect a similar trend. Diarrhoea, pneumonia and malnutrition remain the biggest health risks to young children and yet they can be treated and are entirely preventable. While the current data shows a decline, we encourage continued vigilance and adherence to health protocols,” said Badroodien.

The period between November and May usually coincides with an increase in diarrhoea and pneumonia cases.

However, recent data shows a decline year-on-year. Between November and January, there has been a 29% decrease in cases and a 15% decrease in hospital admissions, compared to the same period the previous year. The number of deaths have remained stable at 10 children.

The decline is partially attributed to the increased adherence to health protocols for Covid-19.

“We have always encouraged increased hygiene and regular handwashing to prevent diarrhoea. The pandemic has brought greater awareness of these protocols and further education drives have contributed to an increased consciousness of how these simple health protocols can prevent disease and save lives,” said Badroodien.

However, if you are still worried about the stomach bug, Dr Morgan Mkhatshwa, head of operations at Bonitas, gives you all the answers to commonly asked questions about the stomach bug:

How long does a stomach bug last?

People typically develop stomach bug symptoms within 24 to 72 hours of being exposed to the virus. While most cases resolve in three to four days, it’s not uncommon to feel unwell for up to a week.

How do I know if it’s food poisoning or a stomach virus?

The symptoms of food poisoning and a stomach virus are very similar. However, food poisoning symptoms develop in as little as a few hours. Most people suspect food poisoning when symptoms develop shortly after eating food which may seem questionable.

How long are you contagious with a stomach bug?

Stomach viruses are highly contagious and can spread quickly. People infected with a stomach virus are contagious from the moment they begin feeling ill and also for the first few days (up to 72 hours) after they recover.

A stomach virus can spread in several different ways:

  • Eating food or drinking liquids that have been contaminated with the virus.
  • Having direct or indirect mouth contact with an infected person or surface with the virus on it.
  • Unhygienic behaviour, such as not washing hands after toilet use, not washing fruits and vegetables before consumption.
  • The virus also inhabits the vomit and stools of people who have the infection.

How do you treat or get rid of a stomach bug?

Supportive therapy that includes increased hydration, rest, electrolyte replenishment and medication for fever is usually all that is needed for viral illnesses.

This is because viruses do not respond to antibiotics and simply need to run their course. If the infection is caused by bacteria, like Salmonella, an antibiotic may be prescribed.

Viral gastroenteritis will typically resolve within a few days or less without medication. However, hydration is vital to a speedy recovery and prevention of complications.

Here are a few steps you can take at home to aid recovery from a stomach virus or food poisoning:

  • Try not to eat any solid foods until you feel better.
  • Suck on ice chips or take small sips of water to prevent dehydration.
  • Avoid juices or other beverages with a lot of sugar or sweeteners that can make diarrhoea worse.
  • Ease yourself back into eating. Start with bland, easy-to-digest foods, such as toast and rice. Stop eating if a feeling of nausea returns.
  • Avoid dairy, caffeine, fatty foods and sugar until you feel better.
  • You should be cautious of taking over-the-counter medications, unless advised by a healthcare provider, as some can worsen the infection.

When to treat it seriously and consult a medical doctor?

People should seek medical attention if they have any of the following symptoms:

  • Bloody stool or vomit.
  • Are unable to keep liquid down for 12-24 hours.
  • Dizziness or light-headedness.
  • Fever above 40°C.
  • Severe, unrelenting abdominal pain.

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