Image by The Italian Voice
I don’t usually get too personal around here. But I am absolutely fed up right now. I’m hoping that *at least* my recent experiences will help some of you.
It was about two weeks ago — or close to it. One of my children began to complain of an upset stomach. There was a truly nasty stomach virus going around, and I had been sort of hyperventilating about it, ready to stay in solitary confinement, anything not to get sick. Of course that is not possible, we have to go to the grocery store and such. We avoided major indoor play spaces, though. Still it was so nasty that I practically felt like we would get sick just from reading peoples’ stories through the computer screen.
These stories. People who were violently ill for 24 – 72 hours. Some were nearly hospitalized for dehydration. Still others probably should have been. People who slept in the bath tub because they were too sick to leave the bathroom. Really crazy stuff.
So when my child complained of a tummy ache, I thought — oh no.
For the first five days, it seemed like it might be okay. Kids were taking turns with minor stomachaches and some diarrhea (sorry for TMI), but everyone was eating and playing and acting normal. Maybe we would get through okay. Maybe this was it.
But then it was Friday night. For the first time in months, we had planned for my parents to come and visit the next day and take the kids for the morning, so that we (my husband and I) could go out alone. I was praying, please let us get through this night with no one sick. Please let us have this reprieve. (It had already been a stressful few weeks with some minor colds, earaches, a baby who napped late and wouldn’t go to bed, and so on.)
No. The 4-year-old woke up sick at midnight.
On Monday, the rest of the kids got sick. Then my husband. Then I did, on Wednesday. One kid was better for a couple of days, then had more issues. He seemed to be getting re-infected, some two or three times already (as of this writing). I’ll spare you the gory details of all of this.
All of this was despite daily detox baths, ingesting clay, drinking lemon water, taking heavy-duty probiotics, and all the usual stuff that kicks (or even stops) stomach viruses.
By Thursday, between the stress of all of this, lack of sleep from caring for sick kids (and myself), and generally not feeling right, I hadn’t eaten more than one or two “real” meals in a week. I struggle a bit with anxiety anyway, which is centered around people getting sick, so this was not helping my frame of mind. At all.
I broke down. I went to Walmart. And I bought poison to clean the house from top to bottom.
What Is This Nastiness?
This, as far as we know, is norovirus.
Norovirus is responsible for many stomach bugs — most, in fact. (Rotovirus, salmonella, and others are responsible for the rest.) It can make people really, really sick because of the way it works. Many are sick for about 24 – 48 hours, sometimes a bit longer. It’s typically rather “explosive” and leaves you weak, but doesn’t last too long.
Unfortunately, it can also be a slow and steady illness, lasting several days, which is what has happened to us. It is also possible to get re-infected, as the virus can mutate quickly.
In a house with four littles, who need adults to clean them up and who aren’t exactly conscientious about sanitation, we’ve got a major problem. A kid can walk around with a dirty diaper and sit on surfaces or even touch it and wipe hands on things, before we catch them. They can forget to get to the bathroom on time. They can forget to wash their hands, or not do a good enough job. And we can’t police them all closely at all times.
Norovirus comes with:
- Stomach cramps
If you’ve had a stomach virus like this, and it seems to be clinging more fiercely than usual, then you might be dealing with norovirus.
The thing is, the virus can live on hard surfaces for a few days, and it can live in carpets/towels/etc. for up to twelve days. So there are lots of ways to become reinfected.
Thankfully, it is not (generally) airborne. But it can get into the air if someone vomits forcefully, so watch out in bathrooms especially. Still you have to inhale it or touch a surface and touch your mouth to catch it.
This is some nasty, nasty stuff. But there are ways to kill it.
Getting Rid of Norovirus
I’ve been researching this for days — on mainstream sites, on alternative sites, talking to herbalist friends, and more. I have a number of tips on how to kill it at this point, and I’m working my way through this list myself.
Protect your hands from all the chemicals you will be cleaning with and use gloves. You may also choose to use gloves when changing dirty diapers or cleaning up soiled towels or sheets.
Nothing much kills norovirus besides bleach. I’ve looked and looked, but this seems to be one of those times that bleach is simply necessary. Oregano essential oil does kill norovirus too, but not as effectively. I recommend using both.
Bleach everything possible — use diluted bleach to spray down toys, surfaces, clothing (where possible — color-safe bleach doesn’t work though), trash cans, etc. I bought bleach-containing wipes to clean up many things as well.
Boil Cloth Diapers
I believe that one of the children is getting reinfected because of not-completely-clean cloth diapers. I haven’t bleached them and the hot water in the washing machine doesn’t get hot enough. The potty trained children are fine, and the baby (who hasn’t had much diarrhea and has separate diapers) is fine. It’s just the toddler who keeps having issues.
Very hot water will kill norovirus, too. So if you can’t bleach something, boil it. Boil diaper inserts for several minutes, and dip covers for 5 – 10 seconds (don’t want to melt the plastic parts). Put babies into disposable diapers for a few days until diarrhea is clear, and all diapers are boiled to stop reinfection. Boil towels that have been thrown up on or used to clean up messes too. In fact, use disposable stuff for cleaning messes if possible so you don’t have to — I used a combination of paper towels and cheap microfiber cloths.
Steam Clean Carpets and Surfaces
If there are any upholstered surfaces in your home that have been thrown up on (especially) or may have been touched with unwashed hands (not as big a deal), steam clean them. That means carpets, couches, chairs, etc. This nastiness can live on these surfaces for up to 12 days, so you don’t want to mess around. You probably can’t bleach them, so stick to steam cleaning. A little oregano oil in the cleaning water couldn’t hurt, either.
Use Hot Washes on Everything
Water has to be really hot (I believe over 160) to kill norovirus. Wash everything possible, especially if it is soiled, on hot. Boil it if you can. This means wash all towels, sheets, and clothing on hot water, even if the label says not to. What is worse — possibly shrinking/ruining the clothing, or getting sick again?
Throw Stuff Out
If you can’t get it clean, throw it out. This includes pillows, cheap clothing, cheap blankets or towels, cheap toys, etc. Just get rid of it. You don’t want something that’s going to hold onto this.
If it’s a true favorite item, try boiling or steam cleaning, then putting it away for a couple weeks so that the bugs will die.
Get Rid of Plastic (Where Possible)
Plastic can easily hold onto germs, unfortunately, just because of how it’s made. Get rid of any plastic items that may have been contaminated (like vomit buckets or bowls). But drinking cups, eating bowls, spoons, etc. — get rid of them, too, especially if they’ve been used by sick people. I’ll be replacing mine with glass and stainless steel as much as possible. It won’t be cheap…but it’s safer.
Clean All Toys
Any and all toys should be cleaned. Submerge them in bleach water for a few hours then rinse and allow to dry. This is especially necessary for plastic. If there’s anything cheap, then just throw it out — I’m getting rid of most of our bath toys.
Larger toys can be sprayed with bleach water and allowed to dry.
Clean All Hard Surfaces (Especially Those Often Touched)
The most important areas to disinfect include often-touched surfaces — door knobs, light switches, rails, fridge handles, cabinet handles, and so on. I used disposable bleach wipes for this job. Don’t forget backs of chairs, leather couches, table tops, and so on. Plus laundry baskets that are used to carry soiled laundry to the basement!! You could even wash money (coins).
Diffuse Essential Oils
Since oregano oil does help kill norovirus, it’s a good idea to diffuse it in the air. I have this diffuser and will be putting it in different rooms of the house over the next couple days and allowing it to diffuse for a few hours (longer for larger rooms, less for small bathrooms). You can do this in rooms where people are currently sick, too, to help them.
Spray Essential Oils
If you don’t want to use bleach, or want to clean surfaces that you’re not sure are contaminated, then spray diluted oregano oil on these surfaces.
Wash Hands A Lot
The only way you can get infected is by putting something contaminated on your hands, then into your mouth. If you wash your hands frequently and try not to touch your face, infection (or reinfection) is much less likely. I bought foaming antibacterial hand soap that has an active ingredient of benzalkonium chloride. It’s not super safe and I wouldn’t recommend it long-term (Dr. Bronner’s with a few drops of tea tree oil is going to be much safer), but this ingredient does kill norovirus. We’re using it temporarily. Once we’re sure that norovirus is gone, we’ll pour it out and use the pump bottles for safer soap.
Drink Lots of Tea
The tannins in tea, according to my herbalist friends, will inactive these viruses in the gut. These include pomegranate fruit and leaf, blackberry leaf, raspberry leaf, black tea, nettle tea, and more. It’s ideal to drink it frequently to keep this junk at bay. These tannins are also known to stop diarrhea and nausea, so it’s just a good idea. Blackberry leaf is pretty mild in flavor. I’ll be making big batches of blackberry leaf and nettle tea (mixed together) and storing it in the fridge in half-gallon glass mason jars. Try to use glass, not plastic. Adding a small amount of honey and even a pinch of Real Salt can help replace lost electrolytes from illness.
Help your gut flora out by giving it the good stuff — probiotics. I take Garden of Life for Women, and my kids have this version. We also have yogurt, kefir, Bubbies pickles, and other probiotic-rich foods. A lot of the good flora is getting washed out during illness, so help your body replace them. I also have noticed that I’ve had somewhat fewer issues with this, possibly because I take probiotics. The mostly breastfed baby has had the mildest case of all.
Take Detox Baths
Hot baths with bentonite clay can help to pull the “junk” out of your system. We do these daily during illness. Use about 1/2 – 1 c. of clay per bath and soak for 10 – 20 minutes.
Drink Clay or Charcoal
If you cannot stop vomiting, wait a short time to allow your stomach to settle, then take bentonite clay or activated charcoal. This can be done in capsules, or dissolved into a drink. These absorb all the “junk” in your system and help to carry it out. This is more of a remedy for “in the middle of” the worst of it.
Keep sick people away from non-sick people. Ideally, in one room. This will help prevent the spread. I put two sick kids on my bed (covered in towels, a blanket, then a sheet, with additional towels on their laps) and kept them upstairs, and kept the healthy children downstairs. This protected people (and my bed). If you’re dealing primarily with older children or adults, you may even be able to stop it from spreading to more than one person.
Grace for Mamas
This stuff is hard. It’s really difficult to be sleep deprived and to have people getting sick again…and again…and yet again, just as you think it’s over.
Do what you have to do. In most cases we like to avoid chemicals, but occasionally it’s just not possible. There is no shame in this. You do what you have to do to keep your family healthy! I wouldn’t (don’t) recommend cleaning like this all the time, but when there’s something truly nasty — that is why we have this stuff.
As for making it day to day during something like this, do what you need to do to cope. Forget the dishes, forget to take out the trash. Just get through it, and then get back to all those things. It’s okay to leave it for awhile, and rest.