What is a tummy bug? Dr Lisa Ackerley Investigates
Food Standards Agency Report.
According to the Food Standards Agency, around 1 in 4 of the population suffers from an episode of Infectious Intestinal Disease (IID) in a year – representing an amazing possible 17 million cases annually. An IID is caused by a pathogenic micro-organism. In simple terms, it’s a tummy bug that someone has eaten which causes symptoms such as vomiting and or diarrhoea.
Whilst most micro-organisms are harmless, there are also plenty that can cause harm. Norovirus accounts for the highest number of incidents, at around 3 million cases per year. Easily passed from one person to another, it can be picked up from food (oysters), water, and almost any hard surface touched by an infected person who has not washed their hands after using the toilet or if someone has vomited nearby (the projectile vomit can go a long way)! Thankfully, most sufferers recover relatively quickly, within a few days – BUT they may still be carrying the virus so good hand washing after using the toilet is absolutely essential.
What caused my tummy bug?
When someone says they have a tummy bug, they often think it is the last thing they ate that caused the illness, but in fact it may be something they ate some time ago.
Take Campylobacter for example, (which is found on raw chicken, and can spread through cross-contamination and lack of hand washing after preparing raw meat and poultry), can take up to 11 days before symptoms appear.
So just because you throw up your last meal, it doesn’t mean that was the cause of the illness.
How to prevent getting a tummy bug
- Wash your hands after using the toilet – and try not to touch surfaces in the toilet afterwards!
- Avoid cloth towels unless in your own bathroom – they can harbour germs
- Always wash your hands before eating – especially if you have been on public transport or are out in a restaurant – if you have picked up norovirus and then eat food using your fingers, you will infect yourself!
- Wash hands after preparing raw meat, poultry, fish and, vegetables – stop the bacteria spreading!
If someone in your house has a tummy bug
- Take special care when cleaning up – use anti-bacterial or anti-viral products – I really like Dettol Disinfectant Spray and Cleansers as they kill viruses and bacteria (good for flu and colds as well)
- Use disinfectant wipes to clean hard surfaces such as door handles, floors, toilet flush, toilet seat
- Use disposable gloves to clean up and then bin them
- Wash your hands (I wash mine twice if dealing with something really horrid)! See my blog on hand-washing
- The patient should use their own hand towel
 Food Standards Agency (2000). A report of infectious intestinal disease in England. London: The Stationary Office.
 Tam CC, Rodrigues LC, Viviani L et al. Longitudinal study of infectious intestinal disease in the UK (IID2 Study): incidence in the community and presenting to general practice. Gut. 2011 Jul 5