Spread Cheer, not ‘Bah Stomach-bug’ during the Holidays

The holidays can be a hectic time. It’s easy to get run down and feel “blah humbug” instead of “ho ho healthy.”

Many people who visit us ask, “Have I caught a stomach bug or did I eat something bad?” First, use the process of elimination. Did anyone else get sick after eating the same food? Or have you come in contact with someone who has a cold or the flu?

If you suspect food was to blame, throw out items that may be contaminated or sat out too long, and alert others who may have been exposed. Luckily, food poisoning is not contagious. But if you think a viral infection is at play, make sure to contain it by disinfecting surfaces and avoiding close contact with others.

Health care providers commonly use “gastroenteritis” to describe “stomach bug” symptoms, which can include abdominal cramping, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and fever, explains Christina Foster, nurse practitioner at BetterMed Urgent Care. Stomach flu is caused by a virus that affects your gastrointestinal system, as opposed to the influenza virus, which causes respiratory illness.

Getting ill from food generally happens from improper handling, thawing, cooking or storing of food that then develops bacteria, such as Salmonella or E. Coli.

So take time to prepare food properly and practice good food-safety hygiene with these four tips from The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture so neither you nor your guests get sick:

  • Clean: Clean hands, surfaces and utensils with soap and warm water before cooking. Wash hands for 20 seconds before and after handling raw food.
  • Separate: Use separate cutting boards, plates and utensils to avoid cross-contamination between raw meat or poultry and foods that are ready to eat.
  • Cook: Confirm foods are cooked to a safe internal temperature by using a food thermometer. Turkey should be cooked to 165 ˚F in three places.
  • Chill/Heat: Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Hot foods should be held at 140 °F or warmer. Cold foods should be held at 40 °F or colder. Don’t leave food at room temperature for longer than 2 hours, which is more likely with holiday buffets.

“While symptoms of both food-related illnesses and gastroenteritis are similar, both are acute, meaning they happen suddenly and last a short time. Most people will recover on their own without treatment,” says Foster.

“If your symptoms persist, such as you feel dehydrated or have not kept food or drink down for more than 6 to 12 hours, then visit a health care provider,” she adds. “Some people may need IV fluids, especially young children or older adults,” Foster adds.

BetterMed hopes you stay healthy and enjoy your holidays! If you do get the humbug, we are open during the holidays – ready to treat you and get you back to spreading cheer!

Christina Foster, nurse practitioner, joined BetterMed Urgent Care in 2016. She works mainly at our Hull Street facility. Prior to that, she worked 12 years in the emergency department at Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center.