Gastroenteritis, also known as the stomach flu, is inflammation in the digestive tract, including the stomach and the small and large intestines. It is very common, especially in children. Although gastroenteritis is sometimes called “stomach flu,” the seasonal influenza (flu) virus does not cause it. It is most commonly caused by a virus, such as the rotavirus, but may also be caused by bacteria or parasites. Vaccines are available to protect children from rotavirus. Your pediatrician can explain your options for vaccinating your baby.
CAUSES AND SYMPTOMS
Viruses that cause the stomach flu can be found in the vomit and diarrhea of infected people. They can live for a long time outside the body. People who are infected with the virus can spread it to objects they touch, especially if they do not wash their hands after using the bathroom or changing a diaper.
Symptoms of the stomach flu usually begin about one to two days after the virus gets into the body. Common symptoms include nausea, vomiting and watery diarrhea. Other possible symptoms are headache, fever, chills and stomachache.
THE DANGERS OF DEHYDRATION
“The most dangerous consequence of the stomach flu is dehydration,” says Dr. Jeffrey Ho, CHOC Children’s pediatric gastroenterologist. “Infants and young children in particular can become dehydrated very easily. Call your child’s doctor right away if you notice any signs of dehydration.”
Parents should watch carefully for signs of dehydration which include decreased urine output, dark-colored urine, dry skin, thirst and dizziness. In younger children, signs of dehydration are dry diapers (from a lack of urination), lack of tears, dry mouth, drowsiness and sunken fontanel (the soft spot on the top of an infant’s head).
FOR A SPEEDY RECOVERY
In most cases, your child should drink plenty of fluids and rest at home until the virus leaves their system. Helpful home care tips include:
In rare cases, children may need treatment for severe dehydration with IV (intravenous) fluids.
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