The rumor rears its head every winter, the minute you start hearing about stomach viruses taking down entire preschool classes and playgroups. On Facebook you see posts from fellow parents confidently plying their kids with grape juice to prevent them from succumbing to one of the worst childhood illnesses around: The dreaded stomach bug.
The theory sounds fine: Grape juice has antiviral properties that may inoculate your children from the nasty virus. Ahh, if only it were that easy. We get it. Stomach. Flu. Is. Awful. With a capital A. No parent wants to see their child go through days of non-stop vomiting and diarrhea (or deal with the laundry and cleaning that goes with it). Even more so, no parent wants to see said virus rapidly and virulently infect the rest of their family.
But treating grape juice like it’s a get-out-of-stomach-flu-free card is bound to disappoint. “Unfortunately, there’s no data to support drinking grape juice to protect your child from stomach flu,” says Preeti Parikh, MD, a pediatrician and HealthiNation’s chief medical editor. Some research from the 1970s indicated that fruit juices could harm viruses in a lab setting, but there’s been no proof that this actually works in everyday life. And let’s not overlook the other side effect of guzzling grape juice by the gallon: “You’re also giving your child so much sugar,” says Dr. Parikh. “I wouldn’t recommend drinking grape juice for stomach flu.”
So, when you find out that everyone in your child’s school is dropping like flies, your first thought shouldn’t be to break out the Welch’s. The truth is, stomach viruses are very sturdy and hard to kill (some strains can survive on surfaces for a week!) and hand sanitizers and garden-variety disinfecting products often don’t make a difference. So first things first, acknowledge that stomach bugs are an inevitable (albeit unfortunate) part of the parenting job description.
That said, there are a few things you can do to lower your kid’s risk of contracting a stomach virus:
1. Practice good hand hygiene. Teach your child to wash their hands thoroughly with soap and warm water every time they use the bathroom and before meals.
2. Be a cleaning machine. If stomach flu does manage to break into your family, regular, vigorous cleaning can help protect others. Disinfect surfaces (especially ground-zero zones where your child’s been actively sick, like the bathroom) with a bleach/water solution or household cleaners that contain bleach or hydrogen peroxide.
3. Get babies vaccinated. One strain of stomach virus, rotavirus, has a vaccine your child can get starting at 2 months old. It won’t help against other kinds of bugs, like norovirus (which is often the one responsible for those infamous cruise-ship outbreaks), but at least it’s something.