Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Barf-O-Rama: How to cope when a stomach virus hits your house

On Sunday night we were up all night with a vomiting toddler. Tis the season. Aside from pregnancy, dealing with stomach bugs has always been my least favorite part of parenting. I've suffered from emetophobia (a phobia vomiting) all my life and having kids certainly exposes me to that fear on a regular basis!

My biggest fear these days isn't dealing with a sick child in itself, but the idea of myself, my other child and my husband all catching it and being ill at the same time with nobody to help out. I've seen it happen to other families countless times, so I do everything in my power to prevent it from spreading once it's in the house. Here is how I cope...

While they are still getting sick

For a baby/toddler I lay a large towel across the crib. Every time they throw up I toss the messy towel into the laundry and lay down a clean one. This is much easier than constantly changing the sheets (or worse, running out of clean ones).

Keeping a toddler in a crib or playpen keeps them from wandering around the house wiping germs on everything, or from touching their healthy siblings. I do this until I'm sure they are done vomiting. For my older child I lay her in bed or on the couch with a bucket lined with a plastic bag. Every time she gets sick I just replace the bag.

After handling vomit I wash my hands thoroughly with soap and hot water AND sanitize using a foaming hand sanitizer containing benzalkonium chloride in concentrations of 0.13% or more. Wet ones also contain this concentration. Alcohol based hand sanitizers DO NOT KILL norovirus, the virus responsible for most stomach bugs.

Please don't tell yourself 'I don't have to worry, I got the flu shot'. The flu shot does NOT protect against stomach viruses. The flu is a respiratory virus (influenza) causing fever, aches, headache and cough and the 'stomach flu' is caused by norovirus, which is a completely different illness that does not currently have a vaccine. It's massively contagious and has an incubation period of 36 hours. That means most people tend to get sick a day and a half after being exposed.

It hasn't been proven, but drinking large amounts of grape juice around the time of exposure can cut down on the risk of catching it. But if it doesn't work it would be horrible to barf back up all that purple liquid!

Once they have stopped vomiting for good

Wash your child! Get them in the tub and wash their hair, hands, face and body with a good soap. Scrub their hands well! Once you drain the water rinse out the tub with the shower to make sure all of the germs are washed down.

Mop any hard floors they have been sick on with bleach. Make sure you use a new bottle, an opened bottle isn't as effective. If they have thrown up on carpet make sure you steam clean it or scrub it with bleach solution. Norovirus can live for up to 2 weeks in carpet.

In any room that someone has thrown up in, wipe down the walls, surfaces, crib slats, etc. with lysol wipes. Projectile vomit sprays invisible droplets up to 15 feet and remains living and contagious on hard surfaces for days sometimes.

Wash any soiled linens and clothing in hot water and dry on hot heat. Wipe out the inside of the laundry basket with a lysol wipe or solution to kill any germs that may have been on the linens before putting the clean clothes back in the basket. You don't want to contaminate the clothes you just washed!

For any stuffed animals that have been caught in the crossfire I put them in a mesh lingerie bag and throw them in the washing machine. If they are the singing kind full of wires and batteries I give them a sponge bath with dish soap, hot water, wash cloths and a toothbrush. I either put them in the dryer or hang them to dry. Any toys that aren't completely sterilized should be kept aside for a couple weeks so no living germs remain to infect other children in the house.

If an older child (or adult) has been sick in the actual bathroom MAKE SURE YOU CHANGE THE HAND TOWEL AND TOOTHBRUSHES IN THE BATHROOM. I actually keep my toothbrush in my bedroom to avoid this and keep my own hand towel in another room to dry my hands on.

Over the next week or two

Your child with still be shedding large amounts of the virus in their feces, so be extremely careful when changing diapers. Wash and sanitize your hands as thoroughly as possible after every change. This will be extremely challenging if the vomiting turns to diarrhea. I try to bathe them after a very messy change, but keep in mind that can just end up covering their entire body in germs. Make sure you clean their hands AFTER their bath.

Your child will be extremely contagious for 48 hours after recovering, very contagious for 5 days after and potentially or mildly contagious for up to 2 weeks after. Please don't be that asshole who brings your child to a birthday party or event the day after they've been sick because they are 'all better'. You're pretty much going to infect everyone there, and yes, people will blame their own miserable experience on you for the rest of their lives.

If you end up catching it too

Take the same sanitary precautions yourself, especially if other members of your family haven't been ill. Whatever you do, don't prepare food for people outside your family. This goes double for any uncooked foods such as salad or cake frosting. If you make a veggie platter for a school party or a batch of cupcakes for the school bake sale you are very likely to infect a large group of people. Most outbreaks of food poisoning are actually caused by someone who was recently sick handling large amounts of uncooked food. Once again, just don't be an asshole.

Hang in there, spring is coming soon.


  1. Dealing with a vomiting toddler? How heartbreaking this is. I hope your baby is feeling better now. And for your tips, thanks for sharing them especially in carpet cleaning and disinfecting. It’s really helpful.

    Matt O

    1. She was only throwing up for a few hours, but the diarrhea lasted over 2 weeks, which is how we finally caught it. We were much sicker than she was though!