Gastroenteritits, more commonly known as ‘the stomach flu’, is a contagious illness that can affect both children and adults. Just like the common cold, there can be periods of time in the year where children are more likely to get infected by the stomach flu. Often, we refer to this as the ‘flu season’. So, if you’re wondering why so many children have fallen ill recently, one of the possible causes would be the stomach flu.
Symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps are particularly indicative of a stomach flu. If your own child has been afflicted with these symptoms, don’t worry too much, as the stomach flu is one of the most common childhood illnesses!
The stomach flu, or gastroenteritis, is an inflammation of the stomach lining. It is a mild illness that would typically last a few days.
Viruses are the most common cause of gastroenteritis in children. Viruses such as rotavirus and norovirus are the most common strains amongst children, although bacterial infections can also cause some cases of gastroenteritis.
The rotavirus vaccine can help to prevent against infections caused by the rotavirus. This vaccinecan be given to children as early as 2 months after they are born. After being vaccinated, the child may still get infected by the virus as they grow older, but their symptoms would usually be a lot milder and they will rarely experience further complications from the infection.
What are the symptoms of the stomach flu? 🩺
Diarrhea and vomiting are the most common signs of gastroenteritis. A lot of children also have fever. Other symptoms include nausea, stomach cramps and body aches. Some children may also have a loss of appetite, which can be due to the discomfort brought upon by the other symptoms.
Diarrhea can occur during a stomach flu, as the virus infecting the gastro-intestinal tract can disrupt the reabsorption of water, which results in the loose, liquid-like stool.
On the other hand, a fever indicates that the body is trying to destroy the virus, as it is harder for the germs to survive at higher temperatures. Therefore, don’t be too alarmed if your child experiences a sudden spike in temperature.
Diarrhea and vomiting, combined with a poor appetite, can cause the child to incur a loss of body fluids. This can lead to dehydration and an imbalance of electrolytes. When the body is severely dehydrated, it us unable to function as well as it should, which can lead to other complications.
How can I tell if my child is dehydrated? 💧
It is helpful to understand and recognize the signs of dehydration, especially in younger children, as they would need urgent medical care. Here are some ways you can tell if they are dehydrated:
the soft spot on the head (fontanelles) is sunken (in babies)
the eyes are sunken/hollow
no tears when the child cries
dry mouth, dry skin
less / not much urine production or fewer than 6 wet diapers in 24 hours in younger children
lesser energy than usual
How is gastroenteritis diagnosed? 👩⚕️
Usually, the paediatrician would be able to tell that the child has a stomach flu from looking at the symptoms alone. Diagnostic tests would not normally be needed, although if the child has any blood or mucus in the stool, the doctor may need to check via a stool sample/blood/urine test to see if there is another underlying cause.
What can I do to manage my child who has been diagnosed with the stomach flu? 👪
There are no specific treatments for the stomach flu, and in fact, most of the time, the child can be treated at home. Here are some things you can do to comfort your child at home:
Hydration– oral rehydration solutions (ORS) will help to treat any dehydration caused by the diarrhea and vomiting, as the ORS contains the appropriate amounts of water, sugar and salt to help with rehydrating the body. If you are unsure about what brand, or how much you should be giving your child, you can always speak to a paediatrician to get some advice.
If your child is still vomiting, you can give the ORS in small sips, every few minutes.
Infants and younger children can continue to breastfeed or take formula, if they are not repeatedly vomiting
Parents can freeze the ORS and make electrolyte popsicles for older children to enjoy
Avoid giving children undiluted fruit juices, soda or sports drinks, as they have a lot of sugar, which can worsen the diarrhea. Fatty foods can also worsen diarrhea, so it is better not to give them to children when they have the stomach flu
Children with fever may take paracetamol or ibuprofen. However, it is always best to check with yourpaediatricianregarding the dosage your child should be getting, before giving them the medicine.
Signs and symptoms to look out for 🔎
Although the stomach flu can be managed at home, sometimes, a child may require urgent medical attention, depending on the severity of the situation. Call your doctor, or visit the emergency department if the child experiences any of the things below:
Not drinking enough fluids for several hours
No/much less urine output
Showing signs of dehydration
Signs of blood in their stool or vomit
Persistent vomiting for more than 24 hours or persistent diarrhea after several days
What can I do to prevent my child getting the stomach flu? 🙅♀️
Because the stomach flu is highly contagious, the best way to avoid getting infected is to minimize the spread of germs. Here are some things you can practice to keep the germs from spreading:
Frequent hand washing– when talking about most illnesses, one of the things we hear most often is the importance of washing our hands, but surprisingly, most people still forget to do it! Teach your child to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds, with soap and water. This is especially important before preparing or eating food, and after using the bathroom. Parents should also remember to wash hands after changing a diaper.
Disinfect surfaces – clean and disinfect tabletops, doorknobs, toys, digital devices and other surfaces that you often touch and hold. When someone in the house has been ill, thoroughly clean and disinfect the area.
Clean laundry – if the child has been infected with the stomach flu and has soiled their clothing, make sure to immediately wash and clean the soiled clothes, bedding or towels with detergent and warm water.
Careful with food– contaminated water and food can also cause a stomach flu. As such, it is important to be careful and ensure surfaces are clean when preparing food, especially when handling raw meat or eggs. Also, vegetables and fruits should always be rinsed with water. Make sure foods are cooked to the appropriate temperature before they are eaten.
Update your child’s immunization– one of the best ways to protect against viruses that cause the stomach flu is to be vaccinated against them. If the child is infected, the rotavirus vaccine can help to reduce the severity of the symptoms.
Thank you for reading our article on the stomach flu!
If you have any further questions, feel free to contact us or drop by our clinic.