Winter is the season for norovirus! Norovirus is a virus that's the most common cause of "stomach flu," or gastroenteritis. It strikes fast; those with it come down with vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramping. About 1 in 5 adults get gastroenteritis every year. Nearly everyone has it at some point in their lifetimes.
With norovirus going around yet another year, test your norovirus IQ with these six facts or myths:
1. Fact or myth: You can get norovorius from touching a doorknob.
Fact. You can get norovirus from touching something that a person with the virus touched. That includes doorknobs, but also anything else that organisms can live on: computer keyboards, coffeemakers, faucets, etc. That's why it's so important to wash your hands frequently; with so many people infected with it in the winter, you can catch it easily from a colleague or family member.
2. Fact or myth: Norovirus is the same thing as food poisoning.
Myth. This myth came about because you can get Norovirus by sharing the food or drink of someone who has it, and by eating or drinking infected food or drink. Also, norovirus spreads very fast, especially in close quarters such as nursing homes, schools, and cruise ships -- another reason why people confuse it with food poisoning. However, food poisoning is caused by a toxin found in the food, not a virus that's spread through food. No matter the label, it's important not to share food with people who may be sick and to beware of raw or undercooked food.
3. Fact or myth: There is a norovirus vaccine.
Fact. There are vaccines that have been developed against norovirus, but they aren't very effective. That's because the virus mutates quickly, and each season produces several new strains of the virus. So even though vaccines exist, they are not routinely recommended to prevent norovirus.
4. Fact or myth: There are effective medicines that will kill norovirus.
Myth. The bad news is that there are no effective antiviral medicines that will kill norovirus. The good news is that norovirus is generally a harmless and self-limiting condition. The biggest danger is that of dehydration, and symptoms are typically gone in 2-3 days without treatment. Medications such as anti-diarrheals may have more risks than benefits, so resting and keeping well hydrated are the key steps to recovery.
5. Fact or myth: Pregnant women are particularly at danger if they contract norovirus.
Myth. Studies have shown that there are no unique harms of norovirus during pregnancy, and norovirus does not directly affect the baby. However, the symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea can lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. This can increase the likelihood of a urinary tract infection and potentially of preterm labor. For these reasons, pregnant women should take extra caution to not contract norovirus and other illnesses.
6. Fact or myth: There are effective ways to prevent catching norovirus.
Fact. Here are four ways to prevent getting norovirus:
1) Avoid people who have symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea. Don't share their utensils or their food or drink.
2) Wash your hands with soap and water often and well, especially if you are in close quarters with potential sick people, such as hospitals, schools, daycare centers, and nursing homes.
3) Beware of raw and undercooked food. Wash salads carefully. Cook meat and seafood well.
4) Keep healthy. Eat healthy, regular meals, rest, and exercise. Build up your immune system in case you do get exposed to this or other viruses.
Norovirus is a common but unpleasant illness. If you do get it, make sure to drink plenty of fluids and get good rest. You may need to see your doctor if you can't keep down fluids, have high fevers, or experience severe pain. Make sure your doctor listens to you and gives you a diagnosis -- and explains to you what to do. As with anything else, prevention is the best medicine.
Check out the slideshow below for the best and worst foods for digestion, according to experts Kristi King, R.D. and Dr. Matthew L. Bechtold:
Fruits and vegetables are great for digestion because most are high in fiber, King says. Bechtold adds that the fiber in produce has an added benefit of regulating bowel movements.
Whole grain foods, including brown rice and wheat, also contain lots of fiber, making them another top food group good for digestion, King says. (Obviously this advice may not apply for people with chronic conditions like celiac disease or other gluten sensitivities, since wheat contains gluten.)
While all fruits and vegetables are generally good for digestion, bananas in particular are great because they don't irritate the stomach. That's why they're part of the "BRAT Diet" for vomiting or diarrhea -- that is, the bananas, rice, applesauce and dry toast diet. "Those are the four things that tend to be the easiest tolerated amongst people and they tend to be bland, so they won't irritate the stomach like other foods," King says. They are also good for replacing the body's electrolytes, she adds.
"Water is excellent for digestion, and that's one thing I think people don't drink enough of," King says. Water helps the digestive process because it helps move things through the intestines.
Spices and herbs like ginger, turmeric and peppermint are great for settling an upset stomach, King says. Try drinking ginger or peppermint tea, or sucking on a peppermint lozenge.
Probiotics are good for the digestive system because they contain good bacteria that crowds out any bad bacteria that you may have in your gut, King says. You want to look specifically for foods that contain live bacteria, such as yogurt and kefir.
Prebiotic foods contain a type of fiber the probiotics feed off of to multiply, "so it’s good food for your good bacteria," King says. Prebiotics are found in foods such as asparagus, onions, lentils and whole grains.
Spicy foods can be bad for digestion because they may trigger acid reflux symptoms for some people, King notes.
Similarly to spicy foods, those containing caffeine can also trigger acid reflux, as it relaxes the esophageal sphincter -- the flap that keeps what you've eaten down in your stomach -- causing food to come back up into the esophagus, King says. What about coffee, which is high in caffeine yet always seems to help us "go?" King says coffee is powerful for triggering peristalsis -- the term for movement of food through the intestines -- it does contain caffeine, which means it can still cause reflux. But it could help someone who is struggling with constipation, she notes.
Like spicy and caffeinated foods, acidic picks like soda can also trigger reflux, King says.
Fatty foods can induce heartburn and diarrhea due to poor absorption of fat, Bechtold says. King adds that you can tell if your diet contains too many high-fat foods because your stool will float to the top of the toilet. This is a sign that you might want to cut back on the saturated fat.
Alcohol also relaxes the esophageal sphincter, which can then trigger acid reflux, King says. Bechtold adds that it can induce inflammation in the stomach.
Dairy can induce bloating, Bechtold says, as well as abdominal discomfort, particularly for people who are lactose intolerant.
In this health video you will learn how to understand basic digestion.
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