Wait until after breakfast to digest this medical news, but a virus that causes vomiting and diarrhea is circulating with a vengeance in Nebraska and Iowa.
“Oh, my goodness, it's horrible,” said Dr. Mindy Lacey, a family physician at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
The technical term for it is “gastroenteritis,” which often is caused by norovirus. Some people call it stomach flu, but experts say the illness has nothing to do with the flu for which people are vaccinated.
The stomach illness, which has afflicted children and adults, is contagious and can infect others when they pick up the virus from doorknobs, flat surfaces, through the air, in contaminated food and from other sources.
The stomach bug is one of a few illnesses going around that has increased Douglas County school absence rates for this time of year to the second-highest level in five years. Dr. Adi Pour, director of the Douglas County Health Department, said influenza is storming into the area, and that other respiratory viruses are sickening many people, too.
Macy Harnisch, who will soon be 3, began crying Monday at 11 p.m. Her mother, Sherri, checked on her.
“She was basically surrounded in a pool of vomit,” the mother said. “She had a look on her face like she didn't know what was going on.”
Macy, who lives with her family in the Elkhorn area, threw up every 45 minutes during the night. By Tuesday morning, she had dry heaves and occasionally gagged up some bile. By noon, she had stopped vomiting. She had no appetite, was a bit dehydrated and appeared to be worn out.
Macy drank liquids and ate some apple 24 hours after her illness began.
Dr. Patricia Quinlisk, Iowa Department of Public Health medical director, said lab testing for the stomach illness is rarely done because it's so common and generally not problematic in the long run.
“Please don't call it the stomach flu,” Quinlisk said. She said doing so gives the flu vaccination a bad rap, because people who come down with what they call the “stomach flu” believe their flu vaccination failed them.
Iowa has plenty of the stomach illness. “It's going around Iowa. It's going around the whole country,” Quinlisk said. “It's sort of like a common cold, but of the gut.”
Lacey of UNMC said the stomach illness typically lasts 24 to 72 hours. The diarrhea that sometimes comes with it can last considerably longer. The stomach bug started circulating through the community a month ago, she said.
Dr. Rachel McCann, a pediatrician at a Children's Physicians clinic in LaVista, said that in some children, the illness has been severe and has taken five days to run its course.
“The thing we worry about most is dehydration,” McCann said.
Lacey said a patient who struggles severely with the vomiting may get a prescription for Zofran, which usually stops nausea and vomiting. However, it doesn't curb diarrhea. Zofran originally was used for patients who became nauseated when receiving cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy.
Lacey said if it's been a couple of hours since a person has thrown up, he or she can try drinking 7-Up or Sprite. Gatorade also can be good for adults, and Pedialite can hydrate infants and children. If that goes well, the patient may move on to bland foods, such as crackers or bread, Lacey said.
McCann said if vomiting persists for three days, it's wise to at least call the doctor and describe the symptoms. If dehydration is evident — a child isn't producing urine once every eight hours and is lethargic — the doctor should be notified sooner.
The best ways to thwart the stomach illness are by washing hands and avoiding those who are sick. Ill people should wash their hands frequently and stay home. If they have a respiratory illness, they should cover their coughs.
Macy Harnisch had bounced back at midweek. She wanted to cuddle more than usual, her mother said, and wasn't as energetic.
“She's kind of lost her spunk,” her mother said, “but I think she'll get it back soon.”
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