Viral Gastroenteritis – what we call “The Stomach Flu”
Stomach Flu in children – or viral gastroenteritis – can be unsettling and something that all parents dread. However, it generally just requires hydration to best combat the illness. It can be rightfully concerning if your child is not eating, but even still, this is usually not a concern as long as he or she is drinking plenty of fluids.
I recommend having them take small sips. Often, five or 10 mL every 20 or 30 minutes should suffice. As long as your child does not suffer from excessive loss of fluid through diarrhea or vomiting and retains some fluid through sugar and salt, he or she will remain hydrated enough.
An Electrolyte Drink like Pedialyte or coconut water can be used, though some children are off-put by the taste. Oral rehydration fluid-like Gatorade, which has less salt and more sugar, can help as well. In my home, we mix a small amount of Gatorade with Pedialyte. Small amounts of juice diluted with water may be helpful, though the juice can make diarrhea worse, so be sure to monitor your child for these symptoms. Contrary to popular belief, milk does not need to be avoided, but if it makes diarrhea worse, cut back on it. Some children do benefit from a lactose-free beverage, as lactose may irritate the belly further.
If you are concerned that your child is dehydrated, please see your doctor immediately. Some signs of dehydration include dizziness, dark urine, lethargy, and dry mouth and lips.
Some forms of bacteria gastroenteritis require antibiotic therapy. Your doctor may suggest collecting a stool sample to send for culture. If bacteria grow in the stool, your doctor may recommend antibiotics to treat the illness. If a parasite is present in the stool, anti-parasitic medications may be prescribed.
Stomach Flu Treatment – What to eat after?
Once diarrhea and vomiting subside, your child can go back to eating a regular diet — though some children benefit from eating lactose-reduced or lactose-free foods for a few weeks to prevent further irritation. There is no need to follow the ‘BRAT’ diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast). Once your child has an appetite again, he or she can eat what they crave, but in small amounts to prevent stomach pain and diarrhea. Just remember — if your child’s appetite has returned, that’s a good sign that the illness is beginning to subside!
Preventing viral illness
The easiest way to prevent stomach flu is to avoid children with diarrheal illnesses, wash hands frequently, practice good toilet hygiene, avoid contamination, and be wary of eating undercooked foods, washing fruits and vegetables entirely, and cleaning counters utensils thoroughly after use can prevent the spread of bacteria. Always ensure that you refrigerate meats as soon as possible to prevent the growth of bacteria. Children should avoid drinking lake, river, or pool water, as they are often infested with bacteria. If you plan to travel to less-developed countries, please discuss prevention tips with your doctor ahead of time.
WHEN TO BE WORRIED
Please see your doctor ASAP if your child has stomach flu symptoms and:
- Recurrent prolonged episodes of diarrhea
- High fever
- Severe stomach pain
- Repeated vomiting
- Blood or mucus in the stool
- Lack of urine
- Sunken, dull, non-glossy eyes or no tears
- Sunken fontanel in a baby (flat or sunken soft spot)
After the Flu
Unfortunately, some children with the symptoms of stomach flu will have ongoing diarrhea for weeks. However, this is usually self-limited, and as long as your child is drinking plenty of fluids, he or she should get better. Diarrhea is one of the most common illnesses in children and is difficult to avoid, so just be sure to help your child drink plenty of fluids. If you are armed with the warning signs and know how best to treat them, you will be prepared to help your child take on this illness.
When should kids stay out of daycare or school?
Please be wary of sending your child to public places if he or she is sick. This can spread the illness and contaminate other children and families. Children should stay out of daycare or school if:
- If he or she has uncontrollable diarrhea
- If he or she is actively vomiting
- If he or she has a persistent fever
- If your child feels unwell
Diarrhea in Babies and Children
Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of babies and toddlers with diarrhea; many having had diarrhea for a week or more. When a baby has diarrhea, parents naturally become concerned about hydration and weight loss. Ream more on diarrhea in babies and children.