Stacey Colino

Hello, summer! It's time for picnics, fairs, festivals, swimming pools, water parks … and nasty stomach bugs that often go hand-in-hand with these warm-weather venues. After the fun is over, you can end up with vomiting and/or diarrhea caused by shigella, E. coli, campylobacter or salmonella from eating contaminated foods, or by cryptosporidium or giardia from swimming in pools and water parks.

Double Whammy If You Have Heartburn or IBS

In case that's not unpleasant enough, if you already suffer from a chronic digestive disorder, such as heartburn or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), stomach bugs are like adding insult to misery.

"Among people with chronic GERD -- or gastroesophageal reflux disease -- vomiting can make sensitivity worse in the esophagus, which can worsen symptoms of heartburn temporarily," says Dr. Cynthia Yoshida, a gastroenterologist in Charlottesville, Va., and author of No More Digestive Problems. "You may need to double up on your heartburn meds for a while."

Meanwhile, those who are susceptible to IBS may experience a flare-up after being sickened by one of these stomach bugs. "It's thought that some cases of IBS may be a gut memory phenomenon: You've had this bad experience in the gut, which leads to changes in the secretions or motility in the gut that persist and lead to diarrhea-predominant IBS," explains Yoshida. "This can happen even though you've gotten rid of the infection." And it can happen to as many as 32 percent of people who get one of these infections, according to research from McMaster University Medical Centre in Canada.

Avoiding Stomach Bugs

That's why it's important to take steps to protect yourself and your family during the summer months. Here's how:

At picnics and barbecues:

Keep perishable items in a well-chilled cooler or insulated bag. Don't let food sit out for more than an hour on a hot day (90 F or more), and always wash hands or use hand sanitizer before touching food or eating.

At pools and water parks:

Rule No. 1 is to avoid getting the water in your mouth or swallowing it. Don't go in the water if it looks murky or if you or your kids have had diarrhea. Always shower before and afterwards.

At fairs and festivals:

Only buy foods from vendors with workstations that appear to be clean and sanitary. The vendor should wear gloves or use tongs to dispense the food, and refrigeration should be provided for raw ingredients or precooked foods.

According to Yoshida, if you do get sick with one of these stomach bugs:

- Symptoms usually subside within 24 to 48 hours.

- It's important to stay hydrated by sipping liquids that contain some sugar or salt -- such as clear broth, ginger ale or an electrolyte solution -- or sucking on popsicles throughout the day.

- If symptoms (such as vomiting, diarrhea, or a fever of 101 F or higher) last longer than 48 hours -- or if you're pregnant or have lowered immunity due to liver disease or medications, etc. -- contact your doctor; you may need antibiotics.

Stomach bugs are no fun. But by taking a few precautions while enjoying popular summer activities, you can stay on track for a healthy, happy summer.


Stacey Colino has written for The Washington Post's health section and many national magazines, including Newsweek, Real Simple, Woman's Day, SELF, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Parenting, Sports Illustrated and Ladies' Home Journal.


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Health - Avoiding Summer Stomach Bugs