Oh No, It’s the Stomach Bug!!!

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Young mother, holding her little sick boy

The dreaded stomach bug is going around. Sometimes called the stomach flu, it really has nothing to do with the flu at all. The flu is caused by the influenza virus and typically causes respiratory symptoms. Instead, a stomach virus is caused by rotavirus, norovirus or adenovirus, among others. These viruses cause gastrointestinal symptoms: nausea, vomiting and watery diarrhea.

How is a stomach virus transmitted?

Lauren Adler_02R WEB72

Lauren Adler, MD, FAAP

The viruses that cause a stomach bug are most often transmitted via a fecal-oral route. If you use the bathroom and do not wash your hands, or touch something dirty and put your hands in your mouth, you can transmit these viruses. Therefore, it is super important to wash your hands after using the bathroom, before you eat and frequently throughout the day.

Stomach viruses are most contagious for about 2-3 days before someone has any symptoms and for up to 2 weeks after they are sick. This is why viruses are so easily passed from person to person because people are contagious even when they are not sick!!

Teach your children this important rule: wash your hands!

Hands should be washed with warm soapy water for as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice.

What are symptoms of a stomach virus?

A stomach bug most often starts abruptly with nausea and vomiting. Other symptoms can include abdominal pain, fever and headache. Diarrhea can start a day or two into the illness. While the vomiting usually only lasts for 1-2 days, diarrhea can last 5-7 days.

How should I treat a stomach bug in my child?

The first step in treatment is to prevent dehydration. I recommend that you do not offer your child anything to eat or drink for one hour after they vomit. After that hour, you can start giving small amounts of fluid. Water is ok, but it is better to offer something that has sugar and electrolytes such as Pedialyte, or Gatorade for an older child.

If your child drinks too much at once, it is likely he/she will vomit again. Therefore, you should only give them small sips: 1 teaspoon every 5-10 minutes. For small children, you can use a medicine syringe; ice chips work well for older children.

After your child tolerates small sips for a few hours, they can advance to larger volumes of liquid and then bland foods such as toast, oatmeal or rice. It is ok if your child does not want to eat anything for a few days—do not feel the need to force them. As long as they are drinking fluids, they will make up the calories later.

If your child does develop diarrhea, the guidelines are a little different. Once you are having diarrhea, you do not want to stimulate your intestines too often. Therefore, we recommend larger, infrequent meals. Take dairy out of your child’s diet, but just for 24 hours; after that, it is ok to re-introduce it. We suggest using a B.R.A.T. diet for patients with diarrhea: Bananas, Rice, Apples and Toast. It is also a good idea to give a probiotic capsule or tablet to children who develop diarrhea.

When should we see my child’s pediatrician? What are concerning symptoms?

Any child less than the age of one with vomiting and diarrhea should probably be seen in the office to rule out dehydration. If your child has severe abdominal pain, high fever or vomiting that will not stop, it is highly advised to see your doctor.

Children, especially young children under the age of 2, are at risk for dehydration. Signs of dehydration can include:

  • decreased urine output
  • lack of tears
  • sunken eyes
  • lethargy

Severe abdominal pain and persistent vomiting can also be signs of more serious illnesses, such as appendicitis, that could require further treatment. If your child has diarrhea lasting more than a week, you should see your pediatrician.

Let’s review the facts

  1. Stomach viruses are very common during this time of the year.
  2. Symptoms can include fever, nausea, vomiting and also diarrhea.
  3. These viruses are easily transmitted from person to person and hand washing is the key to prevent transmission.
  4. If your child has vomited within the past 24 hours or is having diarrhea, it is best to keep him/her home—no school or day care.
  5. The most important treatment is small frequent sips of fluid to prevent dehydration.
  6. If your child seems very sick, has severe symptoms or is not getting better quickly, you should bring him/her to the doctor’s office immediately.

Worried that your child might have a stomach bug? Come in and see us.

If your child is showing signs of fever, nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea, please come in and see us. The sooner we can diagnose and start treating the virus, the sooner your child can start feeling better. Plus, we want to prevent a virus from turning into something more serious.

Make an appt

By Lauren Adler, MD, FAAP, a pediatrician with Westchester Health Pediatrics.

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About the Author: ML Ball