There are plenty of things worse than vomiting and diarrhea, but when it hits it can be so inconvenient. Most parents can testify that these two symptoms seem to strike at the worst possible times – the middle of the night, in the car, or when you’re already running late for work. This month we want to take a minute to shed some light on three causes of vomiting and diarrhea in children:
Rotavirus is the most common cause of severe diarrhea in children under 2. This infection is so common that virtually all children have rotavirus at some point before they turn 3. We are in the middle of the rotavirus season. (Most infections between November and March.)
Children suffering from rotavirus can experience diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, and a fever. It is the most common cause of admission to the hospital for dehydration in children under one year of age. Thus, parents should watch for signs and symptoms of dehydration— decreased oral intake, thirst, dry mouth, decreased urine output, weight loss, and lethargy.
Prevention can be simple. Two oral rotavirus vaccines are available. They can be given at 2 and 4 months or at 2, 4, and 6 months. If your child does contract rotavirus, it has to run its course with supportive care and diligent supervision of hydration. It is highly contagious so diligent handwashing and antibacterial surveillance can help keep other family members safe. Anti-vomiting drugs can be given but we never use anti-diarrheal drugs in children. They have been proven only to prolong the course of an illness that just needs to get out of their bodies.
Salmonella bacteria most commonly manifests in diarrhea and is caused by eating food that is contaminated. Most often children under 4 contract salmonella infections. The typical food products that result in salmonella infection are poultry, beef, eggs, and dairy products, but sometimes fruits and vegetables can be contaminated by coming in contact with an animal product. Finally, water contaminated by animals and contact with contaminated pets can also result in infection. Pet turtles and lizards are common carriers.
In addition to diarrhea, a child suffering from a salmonella infection will experience abdominal cramps and a fever. The incubation period for salmonella infections is typically 6-72 hours but can range from 6 hours to 60 days. The health department is very vigilant in surveillance. If there isn’t an improvement in your child’s symptoms within 2 or 3 days, if there is blood in her stool, or if he has symptoms of dehydration, it’s important to contact our office. We can then test your child for salmonella organisms through a stool sample. Treatment includes fluids, rest, fever reducers, and rarely an antibiotic. To avoid salmonella infections, make sure to practice good hygiene while prepping food. For example, wash your hands thoroughly before and after cooking and eating; make sure to cook eggs, poultry, and ground beef thoroughly; and, make sure to wash hands after playing with pets and before eating always.
What is commonly called the stomach bug is medically called viral gastroenteritis. It is incredibly common in school-age children due to the high number of germs passed around between kids. The vomiting, diarrhea, and overall icky feelings associated with the stomach bug make life hard for parents and kids, especially since this illness can be passed between family members. In order to avoid the stomach bug during the school year, it’s important to remember a few things:
• Wash hands, wash hands, and wash hands! Reinforce at every opportunity with children to never touch your face or eat without washing hands.
• Vomiting is scary for kids! Being there despite the gross parts of the stomach bug exposes you to a lot, so while you are there for your kids, make sure you wash your hands often to avoid catching it yourself.
• Teaching your child to share is a good idea, but we don’t share everything. Illness is always a good opportunity to reinforce good boundaries to children when they are approached by their friends to share things they shouldn’t be sharing. Sharing food and drinks is risky because they can also be sharing germs! Make sure your child knows that sharing drinks and food can expose them to germs that can lead to the stomach bug. And when they are sharing toys, make sure they wash their hands before eating or before moving on to the next activity.