Infectious Pediatric Diseases Stomach Flu

Nobody likes having the stomach flu. You’re achy, nauseated and generally miserable for days. Watching your children go through the illness is even worse. What can you do to battle the stomach flu in your family?

Stomach Flu Causes

The term “stomach flu,” which is also called gastroenteritis, is an illness that is generally caused by a virus. However, it can also be caused by bacteria and parasites. Interestingly, the stomach flu is not the same illness as influenza, or the flu.

The most common way for children to get a stomach flu is by putting their hands in fecal matter and then putting their hands into their mouths. This may sound unlikely, but it is very common in young children, particularly those who attend daycare.

For instance, a child who doesn’t wash his hands after using the restroom may transfer fecal matter to a toy, which another child may play with. After the child plays with the toy, he may wipe his mouth or eat an apple, transferring the fecal matter into his mouth.

The stomach flu can also be caused by food poisoning or by toxins in foods such as shellfish. After the exposure, you should start to see symptoms in your child in about four to 48 hours.

Stomach Pain and Other Symptoms of Stomach Flu

Fortunately, symptoms of the stomach flu usually last only one or two days. In more severe cases, the stomach flu can last up to seven days. Common symptoms include:

  • chills
  • diarrhea
  • fever
  • nausea
  • stomach pain
  • vomiting
  • weakness.

A visit to the doctor isn’t usually necessary. However, if your child exhibits any of the following symptoms, you should call your doctor right away:

  • abdominal discomfort
  • blood in the stool or vomit
  • cool and/or discolored hands and/or feet
  • decreased urination
  • excessive sleepiness or fussiness
  • extreme thirst
  • fever over 102.5 F
  • severe headaches
  • sunken eyes
  • swollen, hard belly
  • vomiting for longer than three days
  • wrinkled skin.

Treatment for Stomach Flu

The stomach flu can usually be treated at home with simple rest and fluid replacement. For children with moderate to severe stomach flu, doctors recommend an oral electrolyte solution such as Pedialyte® to replace fluid that is lost during vomiting and diarrhea.

If you’re breastfeeding or bottle-feeding your child, continue to do so in addition to providing the oral electrolyte solution. For older children, wait two to three days before giving milk.

Solid Foods and the Stomach Flu

Some children may stop vomiting after a few days of contracting the stomach flu but will then develop diarrhea. If this occurs, start giving you child solid food again, as an electrolyte solution may make the diarrhea worse. Solid food will help bulk up your child’s stool.

You should avoid giving your child any foods or fluids with lots of sugar, such as Jell-O®, juice or soda. Gastroenteritis makes the digestion of sugars difficult.

You should also avoid giving your child aspirin. Giving aspirin to children or teens with the stomach flu can result in Reye’s syndrome, a rare disease leading to brain inflammation and liver dysfunction.

Also avoid giving your child anti-diarrhea medications, as they only slow down your child’s intestinal movements and don’t cure diarrhea. Some anti-diarrhea medications even contain salicylates, which closely resemble aspirin and can be dangerous to children.

Resources

Gavin, Mary L. (2007). Stomach Flu. Retrieved Sept. 6, 2007, from the Kids Health Web site: http://www.kidshealth.org/kid/health_problems/stomach/stomach_flu.html.

MedicineNet, Inc. (2007). Gastroenteritis (Viral Gastroenteritis, “Stomach Flu”). Retrieved Sept. 6, 2007, from the MedicineNet Web site: http://www.medicinenet.com/gastroenteritis/article.htm.