Wash all your troubles away

By: Alison Dunn Jan 25, 2011
Wash all your troubles away

A few years ago, after everyone in my household got the flu shot, we all got violently ill. And I mean violent – we’ve dubbed the incident “Pukefest 2007.” After that, I swore I was never going to get another flu shot again because, clearly, this one didn’t work!

I’ve since learned how wrong I was. Yes, our illness was awful, and yes, everyone in my house felt like dying, but it wasn’t the flu. Like a lot of people, I erroneously assumed that “the flu” meant nausea, vomiting and generally feeling like death warmed over. I thought a stuffy nose, aches and pains were just signs of a cold.

It turns out that the lovely symptoms my family had during “Pukefest 2007” were actually signs of a gastrointestinal virus. Unlike an influenza virus, a gastrointestinal virus is called a norovirus (what many of us call “the stomach flu”), and that is what causes nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and more.

Influenza is a totally different beast. After 2009’s H1N1 hype, many of us started to learn that gastrointestinal viruses weren’t actually influenza. The flu is really more of a respiratory illness – and it’s one that can be serious, particularly in children and older adults, or anyone with a weakened immune system. One of the best ways to prevent it is with a flu shot.

What the flu shot doesn’t do is protect against gastrointestinal viruses. I was pretty foolish to think our flu shots didn’t work in 2007. They were actually quite effective – no one in my house got the flu at all that year! But the flu shot can’t protect you from getting other kinds of illnesses. (And if you’re still not sure about the symptoms of the flu, be sure to check out our article, “Cold or flu?” on Health Local.)

So if the flu shot can’t protect us from every illness, is there anything else we can do to avoid getting sick? Absolutely – and it couldn’t be simpler. Wash your hands!

Yes, the very thing your mother always told you to do is the best way to prevent illnesses from spreading. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water before and after eating, after using the washroom, if you come into contact with someone who is ill and after being out in public.

And if you do get sick, try and stay home and get some rest, particularly if you have a gastrointestinal virus. The best way to stop illness from spreading is to stop spreading it around!

Take it from me – you do NOT want to celebrate “Pukefest 2011." 

A journalist with more than 10 years experience, Alison’s work has appeared in a number of top Canadian publications, including glow, Oxygen, Canadian Running and more. She is the former editor of a number of well-respected Canadian and American trade journals and recipient of a Kenneth R. Wilson Gold Award of Excellence in feature article writing. She is a part-time faculty member at Sheridan College’s journalism department, as well as an avid runner and fitness enthusiast.