Gastroenteritis (Stomach Flu) Causes, Symptoms & Treatment in Children
Created by Anurima Updated on Nov 27, 2017
One afternoon after her day at the playschool, my daughter suddenly started vomiting and by late evening she had acute diarrhoea. This continued over the next few days. She would vomit even after drinking water. She seemed to be suffering from a bout of gastroenteritis (Stomach Flu Or Gastro). On the doctor's advice, we kept her giving fluids to avoid dehydration. In the process, she lost about 2 kgs. It broke my heart to see her sick that way. Although we are quite particular about hygiene at home, I realised that once children are out of our protective shelter, they are prone to a world of germs and diseases.
To have a better understanding of diseases that can easily affect a child, I decided to educate myself by reading about them. Here is a little of what I now know on Gastroenteritis.
What is Gastroenteritis (Stomach Flu)?
Gastroenteritis is a medical condition that causes irritation and swelling of the stomach and the small intestine. This condition can result in diarrhoea, vomiting and abdominal pain. The other common names are stomach flu and gastric flu. Infants and the elderly can experience more severe symptoms as compared to older children and adults. Children up to the age of 3 years are most prone to suffer from stomach flu several times a year after which they get a boost in their immunity and may not contract the disease as often.
What Are The Causes Of Gastroenteritis In Children?
The most common causes of stomach flu or Gastroenteritis are Bacteria or Viruses, which can be contracted from the surroundings. Another cause could be an internal one wherein the normal stomach acidity can be altered by an attack from a disease causing intestinal bacteria. Bacterial cases of gastroenteritis may last up to a week or more.
The Types Of Bacteria That Causes Of Gastroenteritis In Children
- Escherichia Coli or E. coli: This bacterium is commonly found in a healthy human intestinal tract, which are harmless. The illness causing or pathogenic types of E. coli are transmitted through contaminated food and water or through contact with people and animals
- Salmonella: Salmonella are found in raw food such as uncooked meat, poultry, eggs, and tomatoes, to name a few
What Are The Symptoms Of Gastroenteritis in Children?
- Nausea and or vomiting
- Abdominal pain
- Low-grade Fever, below 99.9° F 5
- Blood in stool or vomit
- Dehydration Severe diarrhoea and vomiting can cause dehydration
- The following are symptoms of dehydration, which need immediate medical help
- Sunken eyes
- Sunken fontanel or soft spot on the head of babies
- No tears when crying
- Decreased urination and dry diapers in babies
- Dry, sticky mouth
- High fever, above 101° F
How Long Does Gastroenteritis Last In Toddlers?
Generally, gastroenteritis in toddlers doesn't last more than 10 days that includes the entire illness starting from the time that your toddler was infected to the time the symptoms start showing. Gastroenteritis in children is also termed as gastro. And while gastro doesn't need any medication, just ensure to give loads of fluids to your toddler so that he or she is not dehydrated because of constant diarrhoea and vomiting.
How Do These Bacteria Enter Your Child's System?
These bacteria find their way to people through the following ways—
- Through Food: These bacteria are most commonly found in uncooked meat, fruits, vegetables, raw or unpasteurised milk and other dairy products. Any food/ surfaces that come in contact with raw meat can also get infected
- Through Water: Infected human or animal faeces may find its way into lakes, ponds and water supplies. If a town or city water supply is not properly treated, contaminated water can find its way to through drinking water and swimming pools
- Through Human Contact: An infected person can pass on E.coli if s/he does not wash hands after using the toilet. E.coli can spread from the infected person's hands onto objects as well
The Types Of Virus That Causes Of Gastroenteritis In Kids
The following four viruses commonly cause viral gastroenteritis-
- Rotavirus: Rotavirus is the most common type of virus infecting young children and infants. This type of viral outbreak is common during winter and spring months. Children can easily contract this infection from schools, playgroups or day care, as it is highly contagious
- Caliciviruses: Norovirus is the most common form of calicivirus. This type of viral outbreak is common all year round but more frequent from October to April
- Adenovirus: Adenovirus mostly affects children younger than 2 years old. They infect the respiratory tract, eyes, urinary tract and the intestines causing severe diarrhoea
- Astrovirus: Astrovirus infections are common all year round. The symptoms are milder than rotavirus and Norovirus
Parasitic Causes Responsible For Gastroenteritis In Children
The following parasites can cause stomach flu or gastro in children...
- Giardia Lamblia: This is a microscopic parasite that colonises and reproduces in the small intestine. This type of parasite is waterborne and is found in areas with poor sanitation. The incubation period is 1-2 weeks
- Cryptosporidium: This type of parasite causes diarrhoea and the incubation period is from 2-10 days
- Entamoeba Hystolitica: This type of parasite is found in faeces and thrives well under moist conditions
Non-Infectious Causes Of Gastroenteritis In Children
Non-infectious causes of Gastroenteritis are usually a result of side effects of medication, consumption of dairy products in the case of people with lactose intolerance and also common with who are allergic to gluten. Eating contaminated fish also causes stomach flu or food poisoning.
What Is The Treatment Of Gastroenteritis In Children?
The following can be done to treat a case of stomach flu.
- Fluids to Prevent Dehydration: The child should be encouraged to drink plenty of fluids to replace lost body fluids. Breast-fed and bottle fed babies should be encouraged to feed more. Rehydration drinks or rice water maybe offered in between feeds
- Oral Rehydration Solution or ORS: ORS may be given to children in case of dehydration. ORS is a solution of salts and sugar taken to replace and balance the lost fluids and electrolytes (salts) within the body. ORS is sold in packaged and pre-measured sachets and can be bought at most pharmacies. It can also be made at home by mixing six teaspoons of sugar with half a teaspoon of salt in one litre of water. This should be taken in small sips at regular intervals
In cases of mild diarrhoea and vomiting, normal diet may be continued. However, dairy products, fried and sugary foods can worsen diarrhoea and should be avoided.
Even though dairy products are not recommended, yogurt, on the other hand, is considered to be beneficial as it contains lactobacillus, which helps in maintaining a healthy digestive tract. The ‘good bacteria' in yogurt can help reduce the severity of diarrhoea. In some cases the doctor may give antibiotics.
How To Prevent Gastroenteritis In Children?
- You may want to keep the infected child separate from other members of the family. This will prevent germs from spreading to the others
- Washing hands with soap and warm water after using the toilet and before cooking also helps
- At times when soap and water are not available, hand sanitizers are the next best option. They contain ethyl alcohol and kill up to 95% of germs. Carrying one in your bag might help you to be prepared at all times and it may prove especially handy when travelling
- To reduce the chances of food poisoning, meat should be cooked up to 80°C to destroy all bacteria. Only pasteurized milk and dairy products should be consumed. Pasteurization is a process of destroying bacteria by heating milk up to 162° F. This keeps the nutrients intact in milk. Drinkable water should be boiled for at least 10 minutes to kill all germs
- Food should be stored at the right temperature after cooking and you may want to refrigerate leftovers
- You might want to thoroughly clean and disinfect surfaces and vessels after handling and cooking raw meat
- You may want to avoid eating roadside food, raw or undercooked food as the chances of them being contaminated are very high
- Drinking untreated water, unpasteurised milk or juices should be avoided. It is safer to drink bottled water when travelling
We cannot prevent our children from being exposed to the germs or contracting the common illnesses but we can provide them with a clean, hygienic environment, inculcate basic hygiene habits and give them a variety of nutritious foods to boost their immunity. All these factors will help in reducing the chances of them contracting an infection.
| Nov 18, 2017
very useful and handy tips ! gastroenteritis is a common ailment amongst children .. thanks for sharing methods to combat it and it's treatment. maintaining hygiene is the mantra which would not only prevent children from contracting it or spreading it.
| Sep 01, 2017
Thanks Anurima for this useful information u shared..... And Now I hav some idea how to get rid of my child from this problem... Thank u
| Sep 01, 2017
My girl s now 1 year 2 month she s going motion almost 6 times a day... i consulted doctor he given some drops then she stop going for some few days... Again s doing same Wat s d problem suggest me any ideal
| Jul 14, 2017
Very informative, Thanks for sharing.
| Jul 11, 2017
this is really useful one
| Jul 11, 2017
Thank u very much for this information.
| Jul 06, 2017
Thanks for awareness about gastrointestinal.
| Jul 05, 2017
we must follow this. we should special take care of our kids.
| Jul 05, 2017
very informative. thanq
| Jun 21, 2017
thanks for thr information
| Jun 02, 2017
very important information
| May 29, 2017
| Jan 23, 2013
Very Informative write-up Anurima. A hand sanitizer in your bag all the time is a must!
| Jan 09, 2013
Thank you all. Unfortunately young children are prone to contracting gastroenteritis very easily. A little precaution from our end with regards to hygiene can go a long way in keeping our children healthy.
| Jan 09, 2013
My child was hospitalized due to this when he was all of four months.. at the time I did not know much and we landed up in the hospital for close to three days.. very relevant topic Anurima.. great effort!
| Jan 08, 2013
very good information!
| Jan 06, 2013
Very relevant, and completely agree that we cant prevent germ exposure. The least we can do is be informed and aware of how to keep illness at bay.