“Stomach flu” hits Beijing Olympics

by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

You’ve trained for years, and now you are peaking at the right time. You warm-up, stretch, massage to avoid injury, and have the best health care crew in the world by your side. Then, you get a queasiness in your stomach, probably butterflies from nervousness. Then it gets worse. You run to the nearest restroom and things start coming out both ends. The vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramping just keep on coming. Some Olympians are getting the Beijing two-step, stomach bug, stomach virus, viral gastroenteritis. Whatever you call it, if you’ve had it, you know that these athletes are in trouble with their peak performance at major risk

What can they do?

The Wall Street Journal health blog wrote about an orthopedic surgeon who is blogging about his experiences at these 2008 olympics. Rather than injuries, it seems a lot of his time is being spent treating this very thing. Something that a lot of travelers have to deal with, but putting all of these atheletes in close surroundings just increases the risk.

Viral gastroenteritis is very contagious. Someone has a little fecal material on their hands (it happens a lot) and touches a door that you come along and touch. You, inadvertently, touch your mouth. Now you’ve got it. They might not even have the symptoms yet, since it takes a few hours between exposure and the “runs”, but they can certainly spread it.

Once you have the virus, there is no medicine to cure it. It just has to run its course, usually 24-48 hours. You have to let your GI tract rest. Maybe you can sip on some clear liquids, popsicles, ice chips, electrolyte drinks, or maybe not. I imagine a lot of the athletes get IV fluids, by infusing a saltwater solution through a vein into the body. At least that’s what is the usual treatment for dehydration. Then they just have to wait, and hope their participating event is not just around the corner.

If you have had this kind of “bug”, what do you think? Do you feel empathy, or do you think they can overcome it, and do their best?

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One Response to ““Stomach flu” hits Beijing Olympics”

  1. lhubbard Says:

    Wow. I can’t imagine waiting your whole life for this moment and getting the stomach flu. I feel empathy. I think at that level, you could probably still compete, but I doubt you’d do very well.

    Leigh Ann Hubbard
    Managing Editor
    James Hubbard’s My Family Doctor

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