Recently, I have been seeing many cases of gastroenteritis. Gastroenteritis is an infection of the gut (intestines) that causes diarrhea, and may also cause vomiting, cramps and stomach pain. In most cases, the infection clears without medications within a few days, but sometimes takes longer. Many children have more than one episode in a year. Many viruses, bacteria and other microbes (germs) can cause gastroenteritis.
Viruses are the most common cause of gastroenteritis and they do not respond to antibiotics. Rotavirus is the main cause of gastroenteritis in children. Once you have had rotavirus, your body usually becomes immune to getting it again. Food “poisoning” is most often caused by a bacterial infection, and these can be treated with an antibiotic. Fever, vomiting and sometimes bloody diarrhea result. Common examples are species of bacteria called Campylobacter, Salmonella and Escherichia coli. Toxins (poisons) produced by bacteria can also cause food poisoning. Another group of microbes called parasites (think giardiasis, toxoplasmosis, and trichinosis) can also be a cause of food poisoning.
The main risk from gastroenteritis is dehydration, and the treatment is to give your child lots to drink. This may mean giving special rehydration drinks (Orida, Babylite). While your child has diarrhea, try to avoid giving them fruits and fruit juices, dairy products (except small servings of yogurt to rebuild the “good” intestinal bacteria). This is because sugary fluids and foods will cause even more water to be drawn into the intestine, worsening the diarrhea. Many children will also have some degree of lactose intolerance, which can worsen diarrhea. Otherwise, encourage your child to eat as normally as possible.
During the very hot weather we have been experiencing, gastroenteritis outbreaks are more likely to occur. This could be due to the high temperatures making rapid bacterial growth on foods and ice more common. Foods like juices, ice, smoothies, eggs and meats can be especially easy to become contaminated.
For prevention, it is important to frequently wash your hands and wash your children’s hands. This is especially important after using the toilet and before meals. In the kitchen, practice careful hygiene. This means keeping your counter tops and cutting boards super clean, washing your veggies carefully, and keeping your meats and eggs in steel or glass bowls separate from other foods. Wash your hands often while cooking to avoid transferring bacteria from one food to the next.
If your child does become ill, pay close attention to their fluid intake and give her paracetamol for fever. If your child has both diarrhea and vomiting, bring her to see me promptly. It will be helpful to bring a stool specimen if possible in a diaper or sealed container. It needs to be fresh- not more than an hour old.