Is your little one complaining of a stomach ache accompanied by diarrhoea and vomiting? She may have stomach flu, also known as gastroenteritis. Although unpleasant, this condition usually isn’t serious and passes on its own within 10 days. “The most common causes of gastroenteritis are mainly from viruses like norovirus and rotavirus, but it can also come from bacteria like salmonella, E. coli, shigella and staphylococcus,” says general practitioner Dr Yair Edinburg from the Ubuntu Family Health Centre in Johannesburg.
Signs and symptoms of stomach flu:
- Bloodied diarrhoea
- Either increased or low or no urine output
- Weight loss
“Children may refuse to eat and drink, and become very thirsty and lethargic,” says Dr Edinburg.
Is it stomach flu or food poisoning?
Dr Edinburg explains the main difference between stomach flu and food poisoning is that food poisoning is usually dramatic. “It often affects a group of people who may have eaten the same foods, there is a rapid onset of symptoms and the cause is usually bacterial. With stomach flu, there will be reports of the condition in the community.”
Treating your child’s stomach flu at home
Ensure your little one takes in enough fluids so she doesn’t become dehydrated. Dr Edinburg recommends only giving your little one clear fluids as fruit juices and milk can worsenher symptoms. “You can also make your own home-made oral rehydration solution. Mix six level teaspoons of sugar and half a teaspoon of salt with one litre of clean drinking or boiled water. Let the solution cool down before giving it to your child.”
If your child is unable to keep any fluids in, try syringing 2 to 5ml of the fluid in until larger volumes can be tolerated, Dr Edinburg advises. “If your child continues to refuse fluids or vomits, call your doctor immediately.”
While you can offer your little one plain foods like bananas, rice, apple sauce and toast to keep up her strength, oral rehydration should always be the priority when a child has stomach flu. It’s vital to replace the important electrolytes (salts, sugars and minerals) your child’s body loses when she is dehydrated. Avoid foods that are spicy, fried and fatty, or have a lot of acid as they can make your little one’s stomach problems worse.
It’s best to wait until your child can tolerate fluids before introducing food.
Preventing stomach flu
“Following good general hygiene may help prevent your exposure to the causes of a stomach bug. However, as stomach flu is extremely contagious and spread through personal contact, it can prove difficult to avoid being exposed to a stomach bug,” says Dr Edinburg.
He adds that as stomach flu is generally spread by faeco-oral route, parents should take great care when changing nappies. “Hand-washing for the entire family should be a priority after using the toilet, changing nappies and cleaning up diarrhoea or vomit.”
When to be concerned
“If gastroenteritis symptoms last more than about five days, your child has a high fever above 38.5°C, has bloody diarrhoea, is dehydrated and complaining of constant abdominal pain, make an appointment with your doctor as these symptoms may indicate a more severe underlying disease,” says Dr Edinburg.
He adds that symptoms of dehydration should be monitored closely and treated as soon as possible should they develop.
Signs your child may be dehydrated:
- Decreased or no urine input
- Dry mucous membranes
- Dry mouth or skin
- No tears
- Low blood pressure
- Pinched skin that doesn’t rapidly go back to normal.
Back to day care
Dr Edinburg advises you should ideally only send your little one back to school or day care 48 hours after their last episode of diarrhoea, vomiting or fever.