Take the time to wash your hands properly, for at least 20 seconds. CONTRIBUTED

Washing hands vital in preventing spread of stomach bug

Gastroenteritis is the second most common illness in U.S.

News of a stomach bug spreading throughout a social circle may create panic among those who are healthy, but a local doctor says it’s possible for someone to reduce their risk of getting infected.

In fact, the best tools against this often miserable illness are running water and soap, said Aaron Block, MD, family physician with Franklin Family Practice.

“The stomach bug, or gastroenteritis as it is known, can be prevented,” said Aaron Block, MD, who practices with Premier Physician Network. “Prevention always comes back to handwashing. A lot of transmission of the bacterial or viral causes of gastroenteritis comes from fecal-oral transmission. This means that if germs picked up after using the bathroom are not washed off, they can be spread and cause serious illness.”

Gastroenteritis is an inflammation of the lining of the intestines caused by a virus, bacteria or parasite. Viral gastroenteritis is the second most common illness in the United States, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Important to note, however, is that gastroenteritis is often mislabeled as the stomach flu, Dr. Block said.

“There really is no such thing,” he said. “Flu is referring to influenza. It’s a virus that affects the upper respiratory tract — the nose, the throat and the lungs. Stomach flu is a misnomer.”

The most common symptoms of gastroenteritis are vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, headache, fever, and chills. The severity of symptoms and the length that someone experiences them depends on the infection. Usually the illness doesn’t require treatment; however, there are things a person can do at home to help with their recovery.

“We don’t recommend that a person take anything to try to stop their diarrhea on the first day,” Dr. Block said. “You never want to stop infectious diarrhea altogether because you run the risk of causing significant damage to the intestines and possibly a perforation.”

Treat gastroenteritis by drinking plenty of fluids, especially the kind that contain electrolytes. Those who can’t keep fluids down or who are experiencing diarrhea for more than four to five days should seek help from their health care provider.

The best steps to take, however, are those that keep you from getting the illness in the first place. Dr. Block recommends the following points of action to help reduce the spread of gastroenteritis:

Make handwashing a priority – Washing hands is the best way to avoid the spread of germs or illnesses. Take the time to wash them properly. This includes using running water, lathering hands including under the nails, and scrubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds. Use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol if running water is not available.

Avoid the line of fire – Be aware of where you are in proximity to someone who is sick. Sneezing is a close second to hands in terms of how germs are spread. Be a little more diligent when considering how close you stand to a sick person while talking to them.

Never share personal items – Do not share items such as toothbrushes, cups or towels. These things can harbor germs or be a prime source where illnesses spread. Make sure every member of the family has their own item and that they are washed or replaced regularly, especially after someone has been ill.

Handle food with care – Those who are involved with food prep or serving should always wash their hands prior to handling food. This is a must even if hands have been recently washed after using a restroom. Also, kindly suggest that those who are about to share a meal together take time to wash their hands before coming to the table.

For more information on the stomach bug or to find a Premier Physician Network physician near you, visit www.PremierPhysicianNet.com.

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Premier Physician Network is one of the largest groups of pediatrics, family medicine, internal medicine, and urgent care practices in southwest Ohio. For more information, go online to www.premierphysiciannet.com.