Conquering a Stomach Bug Naturally
It’s called “GII.4 Sydney” and it is a new strain of norovirus that is reeking havoc this year all over the world.
According to the CDC, each year, greater than 21 million people in the U.S. become infected with norovirus and develop acute gastroenteritis (inflammation of the stomach and intestines). Contrary to it’s mistaken identity as a stomach “flu”, norovirus has nothing in common with the flu, other than also being caused by a virus. The flu is actually a respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus.
Although typically more of an uncomfortable inconvenience than a life-threatening illness, norovirus can have serious consequences in young children, the elderly and anyone immunocompromised, so management should be taken seriously. Furthermore, symptoms can lead to dehydration in even the healthiest of individuals, which results in prolonged recovery time and decreased resistance to other infections. In fact, the CDC estimates that each year, 70,000 people are hospitalized and 800 people die from norovirus infection. As a result, it is important to maintain a strong immune system year-round and to be able to recognize the signs and symptoms quickly if you or someone you know is infected so you can begin treatment as soon as possible.
Signs and Symptoms of Norovirus:
Common symptoms of norovirus include stomach cramping, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. Less common symptoms may include headache, low-grade fever, chills, muscle aches and fatigue.
Complications of Norovirus:
Typically, norovirus infection is not serious and most people get better in 1-2 days. However, norovirus can be serious in people who are immunocompromised and in young children and the elderly. In these cases, it can lead to severe dehydration, hospitilization, and sometimes death.
Who Can Catch It?
Anyone can catch norovirus, and because there are different strains of it, you can get it more than once in your life. Furthermore, norovirus is highly contagious and spreads easily from person to person if good hygiene is not maintained. Norovirus is located in the vomit and stool of an infected person. Therefore, it is spread by coming into contact with vomit and/or stool from an infected individual. This sounds like a difficult process, but unfortunately it spreads easily when infected people do not practice adequate hygiene and ultimately contaminate areas around them. Norovirus can also be spread through contaminated food or water. Therefore, do not share meals or drinks with someone who is currently ill or until after they are no longer contagious.
How Do I Prevent Norovirus Infection?
The best way to prevent getting a norovirus infection is to keep your immune system healthy. People come into contact with viruses all the time, but not everyone gets sick. Therefore, be sure to educate yourself on how to maintain proper function of your immune system.
Secondly, avoid contact with people who currently have the infection. Since this is nearly impossible, especially for those who work in contact with others, be sure to keep your hands out of your mouth, don’t chew on pens, and wash your hands frequently throughout the day.
How Do I Prevent The Spread of Norovirus?
People infected with norovirus are contagious from the moment they start feeling ill to at least 3 days after their symptoms have resolved. Therefore, people should not prepare food for others until at least 3 days post norovirus infection. Infected persons must wash their hands thoroughly after using the bathroom, and any surfaces that come into contact with stool or vomit must be cleaned and disinfected. In addition, all linens that come into contact with vomit or stool must also be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after handling any soiled linens or articles of clothing.
Currently, there are no conventional treatment options available to either treat or prevent norovirus, though hospitalization is an option if consequences become serious. Thankfully, there are a variety of naturopathic options for both the prevention and management of norovirus.
Diet and Lifestyle Modification: Maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle is one of your best defenses against getting sick in the first place. Some short and sweet tips include:
Eliminating inflammatory foods from your diet: Be aware of any dietary sensitivities you may have and be sure to avoid them as much as possible. If you become ill, refrain from dairy consumption until 7 days after the onset of your symptoms to allow your gut to recover.
Avoid excess sugar: Sugar consumption depletes immune function and is one of the worst things you can consume when trying to prevent illness or the progression of illness.
Get adequate rest: Some studies have shown that people who sleep between 6.5 and 7.5 hours a night live the longest. Although the verdict may still be out, most experts will agree that sleeping less than 6 hours per night is not good for your overall health. Therefore, make sure to sleep around 7 hours per night on a regular basis and when recovering from illness, I suggest sleeping as much as your body requires.
Avoid alcohol, recreational drugs, and smoking: All of these deplete immune system function.
Avoid strenuous exercise if feeling run down: Studies have shown that it is actually better to rest when starting to feel run-down, rather than go to the gym to get your energy back up. This is because exercising when depleted actually depresses your immune system more and can make you sicker! Furthermore, gyms are great breeding grounds for germs, and if you are feeling really low on energy, chances are your ability to fight off infection is also decreased, so my advice is to skip the work out and get a good night’s rest instead.
There are a variety of supplements that people can take to boost their immune system function.
Vitamin D: One of the best ways of fighting infection is to maintain adequate vitamin D levels. If you have low vitamin D, be sure to use supplements to get it up to where it should be.
Herbs: Echinacea, astragalus, andrographis and others.
Vitamins and Minerals: Vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E, and zinc are all essential to maintaining proper immune system function. Thankfully, these can be obtained through diet, but I suggest supplementing with them to give your immune system an extra boost when necessary.
Unfortunately, once symptoms begin, it is clear that you have become infected, and in my opinion, the best option of reducing signs and symptoms at this point is through the use of homeopathics. You can purchase the remedies at 30C potency and must take them frequently until symptoms resolve. This means taking 2-3 pellets every 15 minutes. Typically, symptoms will begin to improve within an hour. These are safe in people of all ages, which make them wonderful treatment options.
Arsencium album: This homeopathic is the main remedy for food poisoning and gastroenteritis, making it a wonderful treatment for norovirus. I have seen this remedy decrease episodes of vomiting significantly in patients that have used this, versus those that haven’t, as well as significantly reduce stomach cramping and diarrhea.
Aloe: This remedy is used for diarrhea, unstoppable bowel movements and involuntary stool when passing gas or urine. Therefore, it may also be useful at eliminating the diarrhea from norovirus as well.
Podophyllum: This remedy is for offensive, explosive liquidy diarrhea (no I am not joking!) that occurs with or without cramping so may also be essential in the treatment of norovirus.
Nux vomica: This remedy is one of our best for the treatment of nausea and vomiting. I have seen it settle the stomachs of people with norovirus, as well as those with nausea due to chemotherapy.
Ipecac: This remedy is for those who have persistent nausea and vomiting with no relief and is therefore very useful in the treatment of those with norovirus, as well as nausea and vomiting in cancer patients.
Mag phos: This remedy is for cramping pains and spasms and may help to reduce the painful intestinal cramps associated with norovirus.
Ginger Tea/Extract: This wonderful herb can be used to soothe nausea, although it will not rid you of the virus.
Water Intake: It is crucial to drink water during this virus to replenish fluid lost through vomiting or diarrhea. Even if it comes out one or both ends, be sure to continue drinking it!
Rice Water: I learned this trick while afflicted with terrible food poisoning in a developing country. Prepare yourself to cook brown rice (or have someone else do this for you if you can’t do it yourself), but add twice as much water. Cook the rice as you normally would, and after about 40 minutes, take the excess water off of the top and drink it down. This helps to constipate the system and will provide some nourishment.
Bland Diet: Once symptoms begin to resolve, be exceptionally careful about what foods you introduce into your diet. Anyone who has had the norovirus stomach and intestinal cramps will tell you that eating the wrong thing can send your abdomen into a crisis again. The best foods are bland foods: Plain rice, plain bread, bananas, broths, plain chicken, etc. Avoid spices, dairy and sauces until 24 hours post symptom resolution or until all stomach and intestinal pain has resolved.
Supplements: Once the symptoms have resolved, it is essential to begin taking a strong probiotic. Probiotics repopulate the good bacteria lost during illness and will help prevent the growth of the virus. Other supplements include anti-microbial herbs to kill off any remaining viral particles, and glutamine to decrease inflammation in the gut and repair any damage that has been done. Since your immune system will undoubtedly be depleted after experiencing this virus, you may also want to get on a good immune-boosting supplement regimen for awhile to prevent catching any other illnesses.
IV Therapy: Rehydration IVs may be necessary for some people after having this virus, H2O2 IVs may help your immune system fight it off better if used early enough and can be tolerated, and immune-boosting IVs post-virus would be a great way to speed the recovery process and prevent any other illnesses from occurring.
As mentioned above, although norovirus does not tend to be serious in most people, it can become life-threatening in some. Therefore, be sure to recognize the signs of dehydration in immunocompromised individuals, as well as the children and elderly and bring them to an appropriate facility to receive the care they need.
Naturopathic Clinical Boards Study Manual, 2011; Piscopo and Yarnell.