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Gastroenteritis (Stomach Flu)

    • What is gastroenteritis (stomach flu)?

      Gastroenteritis stomach flu children

      Gastroenteritis, also known as the stomach flu, is an infection of your child’s stomach and intestines that may lead to diarrhoea, vomiting, or both. It is a common condition in babies and children.

      How does food poisoning differ from gastroenteritis?

      Food contaminated with viruses, bacteria or parasites can cause gastroenteritis. If your child’s gastroenteritis is caused by contaminated food, it is labelled as food poisoning.

      The symptoms of food poisoning and gastroenteritis are the same. Depending on the contaminant, the onset of symptoms can range from 1 hour to 7 days from eating the contaminated food.

      Common foods that may cause food poisoning include:

      • Unwashed fruit and vegetables
      • Raw eggs, meat, fish or shellfish
      • Leftover rice not properly reheated
      • Unpasteurised soft cheese or milk
    • What are the causes of gastroenteritis in children?

      The most common cause of gastroenteritis is a viral infection caused by viruses such as norovirus and rotavirus. Infants and children are at risk of developing severe gastroenteritis symptoms. They also can be dehydrated faster than adults. Thus, it is important to monitor their condition.

      Preventing gastroenteritis

      As there are many strains of viruses which cause gastroenteritis, it is possible to contract it more than once. Your child can get gastroenteritis if they have physical contact with someone who has gastroenteritis, or touch objects that are contaminated, such as utensils and toys. Younger children are vulnerable to getting gastroenteritis as they tend to put their fingers in their mouths after touching common objects.

      Teach your child and maintain good hygiene practices such as:

      • regular handwashing
      • not sharing cups or utensils

      The rotavirus vaccine can be given to infants at 3 – 8 months and can help prevent severe cases of rotavirus gastroenteritis. While gastroenteritis is not fully preventable, there are available vaccines for some viruses that cause gastroenteritis. It is best to consult your paediatrician about it.

    • What are the symptoms of gastroenteritis in children?

      If your child has gastroenteritis, they may display the following symptoms:

      • Nausea and vomiting – usually occurs in the first 48 hours of illness and usually before the diarrhoea begins.
      • Watery diarrhoea – can last for 7 – 10 days.
      • Stomach pains or cramps
      • Headache
      • Fever

      Due to increased fluid losses through vomitting and diarrhoea, your child may be dehydrated.

      Watch out for the following signs of dehydration:

      • Extreme thirst
      • Dry mouth
      • Dizziness
      • Difficulty in concentration
      • Sunken eyes
      • Blurred vision
    • How is gastroenteritis in children treated?

      Home treatment of gastroenteritis

      Ensure that your child takes small and frequent amounts of fluids (such as water, breast milk, formula, oral rehydration solutions or diluted clear juices) to keep up with fluid losses.

      You can give your child probiotics. Certain over the counter medications that stop vomitting or diarrhoea may not be safe in young children. Bring your child to a doctor if they are less than 6 months or are not able to keep in fluids.

      If your child has diarrhoea beyond 1 week, exclude milk and all dairy products for about 2 weeks. This is because some children become briefly intolerant to milk after a prolonged bout of gastroenteritis. Alternatives which can be used to substitute milk include soy milk or formula or certain lactose-free formulas.

      You should bring your child to a doctor if your child is less than 6 months old and displays any of the following symptoms:

      • Continuous vomitting and inability to keep down any fluids
      • Green vomit
      • Blood in vomit or stools
      • Large amounts of watery diarrhoea more than 8 – 10 times a day
      • Drowsiness or increased lethargy
      • Severe or prolonged episodes of abdominal pain
      • Signs of dehydration such as poor urine output, dry lips or tongue, sunken eyes
      • Diarrhoea beyond 2 weeks
      • Fever of more than 38°C
      • A sunken fontanelle, the soft spot on top of the skull

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