How to Prevent Stomach Bugs This Winter

The winter months often bring an increase in stomach bugs like norovirus. Stomach bugs cause symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps. While stomach bugs are notoriously contagious and can spread quickly through schools, daycares, and workplaces, there are things you can do to lower your chances of catching one this winter. In this blog, we’ll dive into the ways to prevent stomach bugs.

What Causes Stomach Bugs?

Stomach bugs are most often caused by viruses like norovirus and rotavirus. These viruses are extremely contagious and can spread through contaminated food or water, contact with an infected person or surface, and airborne particles from vomiting. The CDC estimates that norovirus causes about 20 million illnesses each year in the U.S.

Stomach bugs tend to spike in the winter because people spend more time indoors in closer quarters where illnesses can spread. Cooler weather also makes it easier for viruses to survive and be transmitted.

How to Prevent the Spread of Stomach Bugs

Here are some tips for avoiding stomach bugs this winter:

Practice Good Hand Hygiene

Thoroughly washing hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds is one of the best defenses against gastrointestinal viruses. Make sure to wash hands after using the bathroom, before eating or preparing food, after touching high traffic surfaces, and after exposure to someone who is sick.

Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water isn’t available. Sanitizing hands and surfaces can kill viruses and prevent transmission.

Avoid Close Contact with Sick People

Since stomach viruses are highly contagious, keep your distance from anyone exhibiting symptoms. Unfortunately, people can transmit viruses like norovirus even before they start feeling sick, so caution is warranted anytime these bugs are going around your community.

Wash your hands immediately after contact with someone who has been sick recently. Disinfect any surfaces they may have touched as well.

Disinfect Surfaces

Use disinfecting sprays and wipes daily on high-touch surfaces like doorknobs, counters, keyboards, and phones. Norovirus can survive on hard surfaces for weeks and contaminate hands long after a sick person touches them.

Be sure to use disinfectants that specifically kill norovirus and similar viruses. Look for EPA-registered products with bleach or ammonium compounds.

Don’t Share Food, Drinks, or Utensils

Sharing food, drinks, utensils, and towels with someone who has been sick can pass along a stomach virus. Avoid this by giving sick household members their own set of utensils and towels to use.

Don’t finish food or drinks that a sick person started. And refrain from preparing food for others until at least 48 hours after symptoms resolve.

Isolate Anyone with Symptoms

If someone in your household develops a stomach bug, try to isolate them in a separate room with their own bathroom to avoid it spreading. Bring food and drinks directly to the sick person’s room until a minimum of 48 hours after their symptoms stop.

Immediately remove and wash clothing, towels, or bedding with vomit or stool on them to avoid contamination. Wear disposable gloves when cleaning up bodily fluids and disinfect the area afterwards.

Exclude Sick Kids from School/Daycare

Keep kids home from school or daycare if they have a gastrointestinal illness. Most facilities require kids to stay home until they are symptom-free for 24-48 hours.

Notify the facility if your child gets sick so they can inform other parents. Stomach viruses often hit daycares and schools in waves, so alerting staff to symptoms can reduce spread.

Get Vaccinated

Vaccines can provide protection against some common causes of stomach bugs, like rotavirus. There are several rotavirus vaccines available that can reduce the risk of severe illness in infants and young children.

Ask your doctor about getting age-appropriate stomach bug vaccines, especially before winter virus season hits. Keeping up with all recommended immunizations helps prevent the spread of many contagious illnesses.

What to Do if You Get a Stomach Bug

Despite your best efforts, stomach bugs sometimes strike. Here’s what to do if you develop symptoms:

  • Drink plenty of fluids – viruses can cause dehydration from frequent vomiting and diarrhea. Sip small amounts of water, broth, or electrolyte beverages.
  • Get rest – your body needs energy to fight the virus, so allow yourself to rest.
  • See a doctor if symptoms are severe or don’t improve after a few days – prolonged vomiting and diarrhea can have serious health impacts that may require IV fluids or medication.
  • Isolate yourself from others until you are symptom-free for at least 48 hours.
  • Wash hands thoroughly and often, especially after using the bathroom and before preparing food.
  • Disinfect surfaces that you touch to prevent household spread.
  • Avoid preparing food for others while you are sick and for at least 2 days after symptoms resolve.
  • Follow your doctor’s guidance on when it’s safe to return to work and school.


Stomach bugs can put a damper on winter fun, especially with spikes in public settings like schools and offices. But you can protect yourself and loved ones by following prevention basics like handwashing, disinfecting, avoiding sick contacts, and staying up-to-date on vaccinations. Pay special attention to hand hygiene and isolating anyone with symptoms. With some diligence, you can avoid joining the millions hit with norovirus and other stomach viruses this season.

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