The Winter Vomiting Bug

If you want to know about the aetiology of the Winter Vomiting Bug – or stomach bug, norovirus, rotavirus, gastroenteritis, or whatever the hell else you might want to call it – then read on, for I am now an expert.

First, despite the name ‘Winter Vomiting Bug’, you need to be aware that it doesn’t limit itself to just one end of the body – the explosions can come from pretty much anywhere it chooses, and often both places at once. Also, it isn’t restricted to winter – it crept into our house in the spring, and returned to provide some entertainment in time for Halloween, which is really autumn. In fact, since the name ‘Winter Vomiting Bug’ is only a third accurate, it should really be called the ‘Anytime Puking Squits Bug’, because that’s exactly what it is.

What are the symptoms? As you can gather from the (new) name, it causes guts ache, vomiting and diarrhoea. In this current manifestation, the vomit is rather neat and tidy, taking the form of a solid mass wrapped in a transparent sac of phlegm – kind of like boil-in-the-bag fish, only with more carrots. And a real powerful aroma of fermented apples, like the cider bums that sit on park benches.

I know this because when my darling daughter started to vomit at 1am while sitting in the centre of the carpet, there was nothing in range to grab, so I had to catch it in my hands. This is one of the unexpected pleasures of parenthood. But she seemed instantly more comfortable in herself, so that’s a plus.

Meanwhile, the diarrhoea is – well, diarrhoea. There’s not a lot else to say. A slightly sweet, fruity bouquet, but otherwise exactly as you’d expect.

What is the disease progression? Within twelve hours (of catching vomit in your hands), you get a real bad case of stomach cramps, relieved by burps that taste of fermented apples (at which point, you go, ‘Oh crap, I’ve caught it!). Over the next few hours, the cider burps develop an aftertaste of bacon. Gradually, these burps become more frequent and lose the apple taste altogether, now reminding you of those little burnt bits on the bottom of fried eggs. And then, as it starts to feel as though you’ve swallowed a sea urchin shell that’s rolling around in your stomach, you realise you’re going to be sick, and that as soon as you have you’ll feel better, but it’s going to be a while yet.

What’s the incubation period? I have this down – 23 hours, 37 minutes. Because that is precisely how long it took between getting vomit on my hands to experiencing the pleasure for myself. It is a particularly violent form of retching – my wife Lizzie ran around in a panic screaming ‘you’re going to die, you’re going to die!’ – and it feels like someone is smacking you in the gut with a sledgehammer, but as soon as you’re done you feel as though you could run a marathon – albeit, a marathon with regular toilet stops as the other end remains a little unpredictable.

How long does it last? Now the good news: about a day. The vomiting/diarrhoea explosions are fairly concentrated into a period lasting between a few minutes to a few hours. It’s a long time coming, but once it hits and it’s over and done with, you feel much better. Admittedly, you wonder why you can’t remember being kicked in the stomach by an entire rugby team, but it’s much easier after the explosions than before. The fragile belly lingers for a few days after, and you’ll have plenty of loose stools, but eventually it fades.

Is it contagious? Oh God yes. My wife had it first, about two hours before my daughter, so I had to tend to both at the same time. I used anti-bacterial soap and scalding water every couple of minutes, especially after handling vomit and poop and every time when moving from one patient to the other, but I still managed to catch it.

What’s the long-term prognosis? An aversion to cider. Red skin on your hands. An intimate knowledge of the inside of your toilet bowl. And, if you’re anything like my daughter, a chesty cough and cold that leaves you snotty and spluttering and miserable for at least a week.

The other night she woke up screaming 21 times. Sixteen times I dragged myself out of bed, put her dummy back in, placed her on her belly, rubbed her back until she was soothed, and stayed with her until she was snoring again. Which, for the mathematicians among you, means a deficit of five. On those occasions, I lay abed in a soporific daze, battling to claw my way up to reality, unable to rise in the five or so minutes it took her to ‘self-soothe’ a.k.a. cough and scream herself to sleep.

So this, in a nutshell, is the Winter Vomiting Bug/Anytime Puking Squits Bug. If you know anyone who has it, avoid them like the plague, for they are carrying the plague – a plague of disgustingness you don’t want to unleash upon your family. Although, telling people you’re contagious is a great way to keep the neighbours from bothering you…

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