Buffet roulette

cold-1947995_960_720Originally published in the Batesville Daily Guard

Remember those sick days you took off from school as a kid?

I sure do.

I, as well as many of my peers, would often exaggerate our discomfort to get those little breaks to stay home and do other things, usually watch TV and play video games. Those slightly elevated temperatures, red eyes or tight bellies were like the Golden Ticket out of the classroom if we brought them to the school nurse.

Of course, there was a huge difference between being “sick” and being really sick.

Really sick wasn’t much fun. Unlike the occasional cold or too-greasy/spicy food from the night before, one couldn’t simply take a Tylenol or a shot of Pepto Bismol, and feel good enough to watch TV or play video games. Really sick came hand in hand with being really miserable, often not able to get out of bed. 

I experienced “really sick” a few times in my youth. Usually, it’d be from catching one strain of the flu or another at school. The worst was when I caught pneumonia, which caused me to be bedridden for a week, lacking the energy to get up and even eat.

It was different than getting really sick as an adult. Unlike a kid in school, even having to leave work early can have serious repercussions. For many, it could mean that few hours they missed could cause them to be late on a bill or buying fewer groceries. For those that wind up missing days, it could cost them getting that month’s rent or car payment in on time.

Some of us are lucky enough to have understanding employers and the type of job that let us make up those hours we were absent or have adequate sick leave. For that, many of us should feel blessed. But there are still many that don’t have that luxury.

But back to myself, I got really sick last week. Not only was I sick, but so was my wife and son. We believe that we caught the norovirus; our symptoms fit it, anyway. Norovirus is, and here’s the disgusting part, a disease spread by fecal-oral transmission. We believe we came into contact with it while eating at a buffet in a different city (from my experience, the buffets in Batesville have been great). I wasn’t ignorant of the fact that there was always a chance, it’s just that in the past, my risks have always paid off in a full belly and nothing more.

As they say “you play with fire …”

Norovirus infection can cause nausea, vomiting, watery diarrhea, abdominal pain and loss of taste. It also causes lethargy, weakness, muscle aches, headaches and low-grade fevers. Luckily it’s not usually dangerous and most people who contract it make a full recovery within two to three days.

Let’s just say it’s a very unpleasant experience.

The norovirus causes 19 million to 21 million illnesses every year, The outbreaks are usually in crowded environments like nursing homes, day care centers and cruise ships. Young children and the elderly tend to suffer the worst effects. The norovirus also causes 570 to 800 deaths each year, according to the CDC.

What’s the best way to prevent it? Sufficient heating, chlorine-based disinfectants and polyquaternary amines, and washing your hands if you’re serving food. There’s also a vaccine, developed by the Japanese, in the human testing phase.

But even with the vaccine, I’d still rather not unknowingly consume fecal matter in the first place.

chinese-925111_960_720In my case, things weren’t handled this way, so I got sick. Not only that, but my entire family got sick as well. It was a terrible experience, with both my wife and I feeling so weak that comforting our sick son seemed to take everything we had.

On the bright side, it’s a great way to lose weight if you’re looking to do so. In the span of 24 hours I managed to lose five pounds. Of course, as soon as my appetite returned, I started working on putting those five pounds back on.

So next time you eat out, make sure you pay attention to how your food is being handled. It may save you a few days of misery.

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