Does Your Child Have A Stomach Bug?


It’s probably happened to you or a family member: diarrhea, vomiting, fever and abdominal pain. It’s commonly (and incorrectly) called “stomach flu,” or what doctors call “gastroenteritis,” or inflammation of the stomach and intestines.

“I try not to use the term ‘stomach flu’ as it can be confused with influenza, or ‘the flu,’ which is a totally different viral condition,” says Brian Titesworth, M.D., a pediatrician at Henry Ford Health.

Dr. Titesworth explains that “the flu” is respiratory in nature and that viral gastroenteritis is a better term for this type of illness instead. He adds that, unlike influenza, the viruses that cause gastroenteritis are present year round. Flu season – the time of year when influenza is prevalent – usually runs October through April with its peak during December and February when the weather is coldest.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says the rotavirus is the most common cause of gastroenteritis. Once a person has been exposed to rotavirus, it takes about two days for the symptoms to appear. Rotavirus spreads easily among infants and young children. Washing hands frequently with mild soap and water is essential to preventing the spread of stomach bugs and other germs.

How to Manage a Stomach Virus

Because infants and very young children are so susceptible to gastroenteritis, parents need to watch them closely. Infants can become severely dehydrated and may even need to be hospitalized. Symptoms of dehydration may include decreased urine output and dry mouth. Dehydrated children may also cry with few or no tears and be unusually sleepy or fussy.

Dr. Titesworth warns out that a critical symptom of dehydration in infants and young children is not having a wet diaper or not urinating in more than eight hours. Other symptoms that demand immediate medical attention are vomiting blood or bloody diarrhea.

In most cases, though, stomach bugs usually resolve by themselves over time without special treatment, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Keep your child comfortable and prevent dehydration. Encourage sick children to rest, drink extra fluids and take foods as tolerated.

The BRAT diet (Bananas, Rice, Applesauce and Toast) is a time-honored treatment for diarrhea and vomiting. These bland foods are easy on the digestive system until a regular healthy diet of foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and yogurt, which can help provide the nutrients needed to fully recover, can be reintroduced.

Drinking fluids is also important to prevent dehydration. Dr. Titesworth recommends having your child drink water and giving him or her an electrolyte replacement drink like Pedialyte to replace lost fluids.

“It becomes frustrating trying to keep kids hydrated if they keep throwing up,” Dr. Titesworth said. He advises trying small, frequent amounts of fluids, such as ½ to 1 ounce of fluid every 10-15 minutes if vomiting is a problem. He adds that the taste of Pedialyte has improved over the years and there are different child-friendly flavors to try.

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Dr. Brian Titesworth is a board-certified pediatrician and internal medicine doctor seeing patients at Henry Ford Medical Center – Southfield.

Categories: ParentWell