What is “stomach flu”?

“Intestinal flu”, or gastroenteritis, is an inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. Despite the name, the disease is not caused by the influenza virus itself; it can be caused by a variety of viruses, including rotavirus, adenovirus, astrovirus, and norovirus from the calicivirus family.

Gastroenteritis can also be caused by more serious bacterial infections such as salmonella, staphylococcus, campylobacter or pathogenic E. coli.

Signs of gastroenteritis include diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, fever, chills and body aches. The severity of symptoms can vary, the disease lasts from several hours to several days, depending on the pathogen and the state of the body’s defenses.

Why is infectious gastroenteritis more dangerous for young children?

Young children (up to 1,5-2 years old) especially often suffer from infectious intestinal diseases and suffer them most severely. The reason for this is the immaturity of the child’s immune system, the lack of hygiene skills and, most importantly, the increased tendency of the child’s body to develop a state of dehydration, the low ability to compensate for fluid loss and the high risk of serious, often life-threatening complications of this condition. 

How can a child catch the “stomach flu”?

Gastroenteritis is quite contagious and poses a danger to others. Your child may have eaten something contaminated with the virus or drank from someone else’s cup or used equipment from someone infected with the virus (it is possible to be a carrier of the virus without showing symptoms).

There is also the possibility of infection if the baby comes into contact with his own feces. It sounds unpleasant, but nevertheless, this happens very often in the daily life of a small child. Remember that bacteria are microscopic in size. Even if your child’s hands look clean, they may still have germs on them.

How often do children get stomach flu?

Viral gastroenteritis is in second place in terms of incidence after upper respiratory tract disease – ARVI. Many children get the “stomach flu” at least twice a year, perhaps more often if the child attends kindergarten. After reaching the age of three, the child’s immunity strengthens and the incidence of morbidity decreases.

When is it worth to see a doctor?

You should consult a doctor as soon as you suspect your baby has gastroenteritis. And also, if the child has been experiencing episodic vomiting for more than a day, or you find blood or a large amount of mucus in the stool, the baby has become too capricious – all this is a reason for urgent medical consultation.

You should consult a doctor if there are signs of dehydration:
  • infrequent urination (diaper dry for more than 6 hours)
  • drowsiness or nervousness
  • dry tongue, skin
  • sunken eyes, crying without tears
  • cold hands and feet

Perhaps the doctor will prescribe a course of antibacterial treatment for your baby, do not panic – the child will recover in 2-3 days.

How to treat intestinal flu?

First of all, you need to call a doctor at home, especially if the child is an infant. If it is a bacterial infection, your doctor may prescribe antibiotic treatment. Drug treatment will be useless if it is viral gastroenteritis. Do not give your child anti-diarrhea medicine, as this will only prolong the illness and may cause serious side effects.

It is important to consider that dehydration occurs not only due to fluid loss, but also due to vomiting, diarrhea or fever. It is necessary to feed the child. The best anti-dehydration solution: 2 tbsp. sugar, 1 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. Dilute baking soda in 1 liter. Boiled water at room temperature. Drink little and often – half a spoon at a time.

I would like to emphasize once again: if dehydration is prevented, the child will come to his senses within 2-3 days without additional medications.

How to prevent gastroenteritis?

Wash your hands thoroughly after each diaper change and before each food preparation. The same goes for all family members.

To prevent the most severe gastroenteritis in infants – rotavirus – there is an effective oral vaccination “Rotatek” (manufactured in the Netherlands). The definition of “oral” means that the vaccine is administered through the mouth. It can be combined with other vaccinations with the exception of vaccination against tuberculosis. Vaccination is carried out three times: the first time at 2 months of age, then at 4 months and the last dose at 6 months. Vaccination can significantly reduce the incidence of rotavirus in children under 1 year of life, that is, at the age when this infection can be deadly. Vaccination is especially indicated for children who are bottle-fed, as well as in cases where the family is planning tourist trips to another area.

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