Tips to Help Seniors Avoid the Stomach Flu
There are a number of different common viruses and illnesses that seniors are more prone to than others. One of these very common viruses is the stomach flu or viral gastroenteritis. It’s not cause by the influenza virus. It is caused by eating contaminated food or water or coming into contact with someone who has the virus. It is a very contagious illness and one that seniors are very susceptible to as seniors often have a more compromised immune system and are more susceptible to issues such as this.
The flu virus includes symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain and severe dehydration. Many seniors also suffer from fever. This stomach flu can be caused by either Rotovirus or Norovirus, and is very contagious and often spreads not only among the elderly but in places like senior living and healthcare facilities where there are lots of seniors living in one area.
The Norovirus is very contagious, but there are a few ways that seniors can avoid the stomach flu and help put up better defenses against this illness.
- Norovirus is typically spread by eating contaminated food or touching contaminated surfaces and then putting their hands in their mouths. With this in mind, washing your hands and avoiding putting your hands near your mouth is your best line of defense. This means washing with warm soap and water.
- Seniors can easily get the Norovirus by having direct contact with an infected person or their vomit or diarrhea. This is why seniors should not only avoid others who are sick, but caregivers should be very careful about those with stomach flu.
- Use hand sanitizer. Washing your hands with soap and water is important, especially before and after handling food. Hand sanitizer is also a great option, particularly when you are on-the-go and unable to get to soap and water.
- Clean the home. Seniors or their caregivers should take extra care when cleaning their homes. They should do their best to disinfect all contaminated surfaces in the home. Pay close attention to light switches, phones and remote controls (all things that tend to be touched quite often).
- Seniors should not share hand towels with an infected person or visit those who are sick. Individuals who have the Norovirus should stay isolated for as long as possible.
- Seniors should hydrate all season long, whether they are showing signs of the Norovirus or not. Hydrated seniors are less likely to get seriously ill or so dehydrated that they need to go to the hospital.
Should seniors catch the Norovirus, and they have issues with dehydration and recovering for three days or more—they need to contact their physician. Typically, the Norovirus will start to resolve by then, but if it doesn’t, additional medical intervention may be needed.
Some forms of gastroenteritis actually turn out to be a bacterial infection which is far more serious. High fevers, intractable diarrhea or vomiting, or bloody diarrhea may be a sign Clostridium difficile, E. coli, Salmonella, or a parasite like Giardia. See your doctor right away for any of these signs or if the problem does not resolve in 10 days.
- Kimberly Langdon M.D. is a retired, board-certified obstetrician/gynecologist with 19-years of clinical experience. She graduated from The Ohio State University College of Medicine earning Honors in many rotations. She then completed her OB/GYN residency program at The Ohio State University Medical Center, earning first-place for her senior research project and placed in the 98th percentile on the national exam for OB/GYN residents in the U.S..
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