Norovirus and Children: Surviving the Winter Vomiting Bug

Health & Wellness on 01.08.13
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I once wrote that having a second child is both harder and easier than you might think. That description does not apply when norovirus (aka the winter vomiting bug) comes to town.

Then it's just plain hard. 

Jenni and I did actually experience a bout of norovirus with our first daughter, Lilia, when she was one year old. And while being on vacation in a friend's tiny London flat with a one-year-old and a profoundly nauseous wife was no fun, I have to say that being at home with two profoundly nauseous children (one and three) and a profoundly nauseous wife is just plain hell.

I know, because I've just been there. If this ever happens to you, here's a very simple survival guide.

Let Them Watch Dora. However Much They Want
I don't care what the experts say, concerns about screen time should be tossed out of the window when more than one family member is down with norovirus. If your child, whether healthy or sick, wants to watch 15 episodes of Dora the Explorer back-to-back, let them do it. You'll have a precious moment to do yet another round of laundry, or mop up someone's sick, comfort one of the other sufferers etc. And if you don't, kids' TV may be about all the intellectual stimulation you'll have the capacity to absorb. If Dora starts getting too challenging, this may be the perfect time for Finnish dinosaur heavy metal

Keep Towels, Buckets and Clorox Wipes Handy
If you haven't yet experienced a seriously nauseous infant or toddler, be prepared for a harrowing and messy ride. While our three year old is perfectly capable of holding her head over a toilet (and actually being remarkably brave about it), trying to get a screaming one year old to aim into a bucket is an exercise in wishful thinking. In all seriousness, a few tips I learned through trial and (oh so horrible) error: try to make yourselves comfortable over or near some hard surfaces, not carpets or rugs; cover beds and couches in towels; hold the bucket as close to the child as possible; make sure you have both a towel/washcloth and bucket ready, and be prepared to use both at the same time; and finally, make sure your priority is calming your terrified child who has absolutely no clue what the heck is going on. You can always clean yourself and the floors later - but your baby needs a reassuring hand NOW. 

Don't Be Afraid to Call For Help (But Warn Them What They Are In For)
Having experienced norovirus before, we knew how contagious it is. (I am actually surprised, and a little wary, that I have not yet succumbed.) So we didn't want to ask anyone to come and care for us unless we absolutely had to. But we did call in some favors. An emergency delivery of coconut water, homeopathics, and coffee for Dad was left on our porch by my kindly sister-in-law. My wife's cousin, who is too caring for her own good ignored our counsel to avoid us like the plague, came and helped out with diapers and laundry and just about everything else, only to come down with the bug herself a day later. Yes, I owe her one. 

Know That It Will Be Over Soon
I'm not going to lie - norovirus is deeply unpleasant, and it is especially hard to deal with if you have multiple kids or multiple family members who are sick. But it is also not particularly dangerous and it tends to subside quickly. There's not much for the afflicted to do but drink water/pedialyte if you can stomach it, sleep as and when you can, and wait for it to be over. Typically symptoms subside after 24 - 60 hours, although severe cases may leave you weakened and dehydrated. In our case, with all three patients the worst of the vomiting was over in 3 or 4 hours. (For more information on causes, symptoms and prevention, check out this wikipedia entry on norovirus). I would be cautious about being too quick to enter the world though - all three of my ladies had a second round of vomiting almost a full day after the initial onset of the bug. And I would also continue to exercise caution about exposing others - sanitizing your hands for a few days after exposure, and bleaching any surfaces that may have been exposed. This is not the time to be worrying about the world being too clean for your kids

Maybe also choose someone else's house for the moms' group playdate that week...

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