Stomach bug or food poisoning?

Contributing ColumnistJune 2, 2014 

Gilliam, Baptisthealth

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It's that time of the year when illness spreads like wildfire. Have you or a family member been struck by a stomach bug or maybe food poisoning? It's important to know which it is in order to know whether you are contagious or if others should avoid the "mystery meat" in the fridge.

The stomach virus, or "GI bug" as it is often referred to, attacks the intestines. Symptoms include:

■ Watery diarrhea.

■ Nausea/vomiting.

■ Abdominal cramping.

■ Fever.

■ Muscle aches.

■ Headache.

Symptoms usually appear one to two days after exposure to the virus and typically last one to two days but can linger for up to 10 days. Dehydration is the most common complication of the virus.

Treatment includes rest; increase fluids; and gradually adding bland foods such as bananas, rice, applesauce and toast to your diet. Avoid dairy products, caffeine, and spicy and greasy foods.

The easiest way to prevent the stomach virus is to avoid close contact with an infected person or anything he or she has touched. The virus also can be contracted through contaminated food or water. Make sure you wash your hands frequently, especially before you eat and after being in public places. Do not share personal items, including eating utensils.

Food poisoning is caused by eating contaminated food that contains infectious organisms: bacteria such as E. coli, or viruses or parasites. The most common symptoms of food poisoning are:

■ Abdominal pain.

■ No appetite.

■ Watery diarrhea.

■ Nausea/vomiting.

■ Fever.

■ Fatigue.

Symptoms usually present within hours of eating contaminated food, but certain exposure to contaminants might not cause symptoms until a couple of weeks later and can last up to 10 days. Complications from food poisoning also include dehydration. Treatment for food poisoning includes replacing lost fluids. If symptoms are severe, antibiotics may be prescribed.

Prevent food poisoning by making sure you keep your hands, cooking surfaces and utensils clean. Keep hot food hot and cold food cold. Throw out food that has been sitting out or foods you aren't sure about. Cook foods thoroughly.

The easiest way to avoid a stomach virus or food poisoning is through precaution. Ensure the best possible practices when handling and preparing food.

If you suspect you might be a victim of a virus or food poisoning, you should treat the symptoms; in extreme cases, contact your primary care physician and/or nurse practitioner.

Whitney Gilliam is a nurse practitioner with Baptist Family Physicians of Scott County in Georgetown.

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