How to Stomach Virus-Proof Your Family

Tips to prevent a parent's worst nightmare: The stomach bug.

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“My tummy hurts”: Three little words that can spark instant panic in any parent, especially during stomach virus season in the dead of winter. Some strains of stomach virus can take down an entire elementary school class: They’re hardy, they’re virulent, and they’re quite contagious (especially among little ones who aren’t known for having the best bathroom hygiene).

If you know your child’s been exposed to a stomach virus from a friend or classmate, your main concern is preventing him or her from getting sick too. If your kiddo’s contracted the bug, your mission is to prevent other siblings and family members from being taken down too. Here’s what you need to know:

When Is a Stomach Virus Contagious?

For most stomach viruses, it does take sometimes up to a week to fully feel better, says pediatrician Preeti Parikh, MD, chief medical editor at HealthiNation. “But usually within 24 to 48 hours, you should see some of the vomiting at least decrease. The first day or two may be the worst and then after that you should see that it's starting to slow down.” Signs that your child is no longer contagious or is less contagious:

  • Fever free for 24 hours
  • Diarrhea is contained
  • No vomit in 24 hours


How to Stop Stomach Virus from Spreading

1. The number-one rule is good hand washing, says Dr. Parikh. Wash vigorously (for 20 seconds, which is longer than you might think) with warm water and soap and show your children how to lather up too.

2. Don’t rely on hand sanitizers to protect you. While they may be effective against other kinds of germs or viruses, hand sanitizer doesn’t kill all kinds of stomach viruses. So you’ll need to stick with old-fashioned soap and water.

3. Clean, clean, clean. You need to disinfect any surfaces your sick child may have touched or gotten sick near. The virus (did we mention how sturdy it is?) can survive mild cleaners, so this is the time to break out the bleach. “Any time they throw up, you really need to make sure you clean it up right away and disinfect that area,” says Dr. Parikh.

4. Be a laundromat. Your child’s clothes, sheets, blankets, and towels are harboring those stomach bugs, and they can survive on such surfaces for many days. This isn’t the time for laundry procrastination. Wash anything that’s come into contact with vomit or poop ASAP, in the hottest water cycle you can (and with bleach when possible).

5. Vaccinate babies. “Another great thing that you can do for your child to help prevent them from getting the stomach bug caused by rotavirus is to give them the rotavirus vaccine,” says Dr. Parikh. “Your pediatrician will have that available for your baby when they're two months old, and that can help prevent them from getting it in the future.”

And if you think grape juice can keep you safe from a stomach bug, guess again.