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(Fremont County, Wyo.) – The public health nursing offices in Riverton and Lander are receiving calls related to stomach ailments. “We do not believe we have a certain organism causing the increased numbers of GI illness so to speak, but most likely a common virus that makes its way around the community often,” said Fremont County Public Health Nurse Teresa Nirder. To help answer questions that the public may have, Nirider offered the following article:

Stomach Flu or Food Poisoning?

Many times during this time of year, it is common to see an increase in gastro-intestinal (GI) illnesses. It may be due to more close contact exposures due to school and cold weather, or it may be due to more socializing and holiday get togethers. Whatever the case may be, it is important to know the difference between short duration illnesses versus something more serious such as food poisoning.

Gastroenteritis is a general term that usually means an upset stomach. Some people may also refer to this as the “stomach flu”. However, it is not the flu, as in influenza.  The illness is usually short lived and symptoms improve or resolve in 24 to 48 hours.  Symptoms of gastroenteritis are abdominal cramps, nausea/vomiting, diarrhea, sometimes a headache, and possible dehydration.  Symptoms usually come on suddenly and may disappear just as quickly as they started.  It is important to get plenty of rest and make sure you do not become dehydrated. Dehydration occurs when your body loses too much fluid.

Fremont County Public HealthFood poisoning on the other hand, is caused by eating foods that have harmful germs in them. These germs are mostly found in raw or undercooked meat, chicken, fish and eggs but can spread to any type of food. These same germs can also grow on food (such as left over turkey) that is left out on counters or outdoors and is not stored properly.  Food poisoning can also happen when people do not wash their hands before they touch your food. If you are a food handler, whether it is in your home or your place of work, it is important that you wash your hands with warm soapy water before handling any food products or eating utensils. It is also critical if you are ill with nausea, vomiting or diarrhea you should not be preparing food or working until you have been without symptoms for 48 hours.  Many times food poisoning is not caused by undercooked or contaminated foods, it is caused because the person that prepared or served your food is ill themselves.

Symptoms of food poisoning will occur 24 to 72 hours AFTER the food has been ingested. Symptoms are much like that of viral gastroenteritis with abdominal cramps, nausea/vomiting and diarrhea. However, many times food poisoning is also accompanied by a fever and symptoms lasting longer than 48 hours. Some types of food poisoning can be serious and a follow up by your doctor is recommended.

Symptoms that require medical attention are vomiting or diarrhea lasting longer than 24 hours, blood in vomit or stools, fever that is over 101 degrees Fahrenheit, and dehydration.

Dehydration is occurring when your mouth and lips are very dry. You may also experience light headedness, eyes may appear dull or sunken and decreased urination. Babies will have dry diapers for several hours, little to no tears when crying and may also have a sunken fontanel (soft spot) at the top of their head. If these symptoms are occurring, contact your medical provider as soon as possible.

You can prevent dehydration by sipping small amounts of caffeine free clear liquids frequently, as well as sucking on ice chips or frozen popsicles.  Drinking too much too fast can cause vomiting.  Electrolytes should also be replaced, especially if vomiting or diarrhea last longer than 24 hours. Sports drinks, which contain a mix of salt, sugar and minerals, may help replace electrolytes.

When you feel like eating, start with mild foods, such as dry toast, yogurt, applesauce, bananas and rice. Also known as the BRAT diet ( bland foods/bananas, rice, applesauce and toast). Avoid spicy, hot or high fat foods, and do not drink alcohol or caffeine for a day or two. Do not drink milk or eat ice cream or other dairy foods until you are feeling better.

Prevention is the key to keeping this from spreading through your home, work or school.Proper food handling techniques should be followed.  Wash hands after using the restroom with warm soapy water. Disinfect surfaces with a bleach solution or disinfectant spray.  If you are ill, stay home. Avoid going to public places, shaking hands, going to work/school or preparing someone else’s food. If symptoms do not improve after 24 hours, please contact your doctor.

Keep your family safer from food poisoning by using , “Check your steps holiday food safety tips” at www.foodsafety.gov.

For more information, please contact Fremont County Public Health in Lander or Riverton.

–Fremont County Public Health