For parents, there’s nothing more heartbreaking than watching a child deal with illness. But especially heartbreaking are the effects of the stomach flu picked up from one of their classmates.
However, calling it the “stomach flu” isn’t entirely accurate. While the “flu,” or influenza, is a viral infection that causes respiratory symptoms as well as aching and fever, the “stomach flu” has become the common term for any gastrointestinal tract illness that can be caused by bacteria, virus or parasites.
While conditions like food poisoning may sometimes be wrongly labeled as a stomach bug, what we’re talking about is the stomach virus–viral gastroenteritis.
What are the causes of viral gastroenteritis in children?
That would be something called Rotavirus.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Rotavirus spreads easily among young children. This is because kids tend to touch everything they can. They then put their contaminated hands in their mouths, which then causes illness. Worse yet, contaminated children pass Rotavirus between each other pretty easily.
When your kid comes home with a sick tummy, accompanied by diarrhea and vomiting, you’ll know you’re dealing with a case of the stomach flu.
What are the symptoms of gastroenteritis (“stomach flu”)
Kids can’t always explain exactly what’s bothering them when they’re sick. Complaining of a tummy ache is usually the first indicator. Of course, you can’t deny the problem when the illness presents itself rather forcefully from both ends. Stomach flu symptoms will typically include:
- Stomach cramps
- Abdominal pain
- Low-grade fever
A fever is the body’s natural way to fight infection, so don’t be surprised if your child presents a slight temperature when dealing with gastroenteritis. If your little one’s fever hasn’t subsided in a day or two, or reaches above 104, see a physician or request a house call from one of our doctors.
In most cases, the stomach flu will run its course in one to three days. But we’ll look at some ways to treat and prevent it.
How does stomach flu spread?
Since there are several possible causes of stomach flu, it’s hard to track its course. A stomach virus like Rotavirus can spread through fecal-to-oral routes. A very small amount in just the wrong places, like a doorknob or faucet handle, can cause the devastating illness.
A parasite or a bacterial infection may also be the culprit. If the discomfort and symptoms don’t get better over just a day or two, seek the advice of your pediatrician. Don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor if you’re uncertain about your child’s recovery.
How do you treat the stomach flu?
The best stomach flu remedies are lots of clear liquids and time. Both vomiting and diarrhea can cause dehydration, so it’s important that you replenish on fluids as much as possible.
While water is always helpful when fighting dehydration, your child is also losing the salt and minerals that make up electrolytes. Electrolytes affect your body’s pH (or acid) levels and if the body doesn’t have enough, cramping will occur. Electrolytes are most commonly associated with sports drinks, so start there, but be aware of the sugar content.
At the same time, stay away from milk or juices that have a high acid content as these can both make the symptoms worse. Also limit solid food to give the digestive tract a chance to rest.
If rest and rehydration aren’t helping, talk to your doctor.
How can you prevent the stomach flu?
Because of the varied nature of what we call stomach flu, the reasons for contracting it are diverse. The best preventative measure is hand washing. This is especially important for children as they use their hands to explore the world around them, and that means coming into contact with a lot of germs.
Let’s look at some steps you can take to teach proper hand washing techniques to the littlest members of your family.
- Start with supervision. Be with them when they use the bathroom and wash their hands to show them the best methods.
- Show by example. Make sure they see you wash your hands after every trip to the restroom. Also, wash thoroughly when you’re handling food, or any time your hands are dirty.
- Share reminders. Place reminders around the house at eye level to help them remember when to wash their hands.
- Reward them. Providing rewards helps reinforce new habits.
- Make it easy to reach. Keep a stool in the bathroom so they can wash their hands on their own, and feel like a big kid.
It’s important that you stay vigilant. As with getting children accustomed to any new routine, this process will take time. That time, however, will be worth it–not only to your children’s health, but to you as a parent as well.