2010-06-09 / Health

To Your Good Health

Case of stomach flu isn’t like the real flu

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have read your column for many years, but I haven’t seen anything about stomach flu. Will you write about it? Someone in my family of seven gets it every year, even in the summer. Does the flu shot protect you from it? — H.H.

ANSWER: At one time, I conducted a crusade to erase the term “stomach (or intestinal) flu” from the English language. I didn’t get very far, so I gave up on it. Real flu — influenza — is a respiratory illness, not an intestinal illness. The flu shot provides protection only against true flu, not “stomach” flu.

Four viruses are the usual culprits of stomach flu, and, for adults, the one that leads the pack is norovirus. Vomiting, diarrhea, fever and often headache are the main symptoms. It comes on suddenly, about one or two days after the virus enters the body. The sickness lasts only one to three days. A slight increase in number of cases occurs in the winter, but it comes in all seasons.

Norovirus infections usually spare infants. Older people have the worst symptoms, and they are the ones who can die from an infection, but death is rare. This is the illness that sweeps through cruise ships and can infect an entire nursing home. It’s also common in military settings and sports teams. The virus is passed in contaminated food and water, and it can live for long times on inanimate objects — another possible source of transmission.

No medicines kill the norovirus. Replacing fluid lost through diarrhea is the most important aspect of treatment. A homemade replacement solution is a mixture of half a teaspoon of salt, half a teaspoon of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and four tablespoons of sugar in a quart (about one liter) of water. Commercial fluid replacements also are available, and drinks like Gatorade are suitable for infections that are not prostrating. Bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol) controls diarrhea.

Immunity to norovirus is not long-lasting, so second infections occur.

Many bacterial illnesses, like Salmonella, also lead to diarrhea, but that’s a subject for another day.

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DEAR DR. DONOHUE: How can I get rid of bags under my eyes? — B.L.

ANSWER: In younger years, people don’t have bags under their eyes because a strong meshwork of tissue holds fat in place. With age, that meshwork loses strength, and fat pushes its way outward in the area under the eyes. That bulging fat is bags.

I wish I had a simple answer for you. The only way to get rid of those bags is surgical removal.

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DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Since I was 12, I have played tennis. I still do, four times a week, and I am 77. I have had to cut the time I play tennis in half because I’m getting short of breath. What kind of lung exercises can I do? — R.K.

ANSWER: Forget lung exercises. See your doctor, and you should do that as soon as you can. Becoming breathless doing things you used to do without any trouble can be a sign of many serious illnesses.

Readers may write Dr. Donohue or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853- 6475.

©2010 North America Synd.

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