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Visitor Restrictions Introduced in Irish Hospitals Due to Vomiting Bug

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A number of Irish hospitals have introduced visitor restrictions due to outbreaks of the so called winter vomiting bug. This is a particularly unpleasant and highly contagious Norovirus infection resulting in acute gastroenteritis within 12 to 48 hours after infection (good hand hygiene is crucial!).

Its signature symptoms are acute onset vomiting, watery diarrhoea, abdominal cramps, and nausea, often accompanied by myalgia, malaise and headache. Certainly not something you would want to suffer through if there was any way to avoid it. So what can we do if we find ourselves or our family members developing those symptoms? Not much according to most Irish doctors as it seems they are convinced there is no treatment for it outside of bed and rehydration. Luckily that’s not entirely true.

As a practicing community pharmacist I see people coming in with stomach bugs fairly regularly, with the last few weeks certainly seeing a big increase in the frequency of such visits. What I normally suggest is activated charcoal and acidophilus capsules in addition to rehydration sachets. That combination will usually clear or at least considerably ease the symptoms with just a couple of hours.

Activated charcoal or medicinal charcoal as it is also sometimes referred to, is a specially processed charcoal which is extremely porous and thus has a very large surface area available for adsorption* of gasses, poisons, viruses, bacteria and their toxins. For this reason it is often used in hospitals as the treatment of choice for poisonings and also by individuals to prevent alcohol intoxication or to cheat on a breathalyzer test. While it may take a few tries (2-3 usually) before you’ll be able to keep it down, it’s well worth the effort as it will produce marked improvement in symptoms. You will need to take a good few of them (5-10 capsules at a time with water; they can be opened and mixed into water) and the sooner you start the better the results will be (it’s a good idea to keep a packet in the press). One important thing to keep I mind with activated charcoal is to NOT take it with any of your medicines, as it will likely adsorb them too and prevent them from working normally. You should take any other tablets at least 2 hours before or after activated charcoal and consult your doctor beforehand!

* aDsorption - adhesion to the surface(!) as opposed to aBsorption - taking up or transfer of one material into(!) another material, like a sponge absorbs a liquid.

Acidophilus are beneficial bacteria that maintain a healthy balance of intestinal flora. They are also known as probiotics and prevent the harmful bacteria and viruses from taking hold in our intestines. They help promote good digestion, boost immune function and increase resistance to infection, including from diarrhoea causing bacteria and viruses. They are an excellent prevention as well as treatment for traveller’s and antibiotic induced diarrhoea. Another great thing about probiotics is that just about anyone can them, from infants to pregnant and breastfeeding women.

Last but not least remember to replace lost electrolytes by using rehydration sachets like Dioralyte and Rapolyte. Reconstitute them paying close attention to the instructions and drink them slowly, since they have a strong taste that can irritate the stomach. Remember water on its own does not rehydrate as it can not stay in the body.

Avoid the temptation to use domperidon (Motilium) and loperamide (Arret, Imodium) as they’re unlikely to work and can prolong the duration of the gastroenteritis by keeping the virus in your body longer.

Source: Visitor restrictions introduced at Kerry General Hospital due to vomiting bug (HSE)

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