Beat Stomach Flu!

Winter is an especially dangerous time for this common bug.

’TIS THE SEASON TO BE WARY— of the stomach viruses and bacteria that may be lurking in your kids’ schools, day care centers and the outside world. Lumped together under the umbrella term gastroenteritis, these stomach bugs account for about 1.5 million doctor visits for both adults and children each year. Roughly 200,000 people need hospitalization, usually for dehydration caused by excessive vomiting or diarrhea, and about 300 deaths a year are attributed to the illness. Young children are the most vulnerable.

Stomach flu usually lasts about five days. Its symptoms, as any experienced parent knows, are vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pains or cramps and occasionally fever. The real danger, though, is dehydration.

The most common winter culprit in children is the rotavirus, says Elizabeth R. Henry, M.D., a pediatrician who is a partner with the New Brunswick Pediatric Group and is affiliated with Saint Peter’s University Hospital. “Like the influenza virus, this one thrives in cold, dry winter climates,” she says. “Although any age group, even adults, can get rotavirus, the younger and smaller you are, the more prone you are to serious dehydration.”

When your child comes down with the bug, it’s important to see the child’s doctor. “Many things can cause these symptoms, so other possible causes such as food poisoning need to be ruled out,” she says.

Equally critical is the need to begin rehydrating as soon as symptoms begin, she says. “Use products like Pedialyte for small children and Gatorade for older kids, as opposed to fruit juice, because they contain electrolytes like sodium and potassium,” she notes. If kids immediately throw up liquids, try reducing the amount given to just a few ounces, but give it as often as they can handle it. If you notice signs of dehydration (see below), talk to the child’s physician immediately.

Preventing stomach flu is difficult. “There is an oral vaccine,” says Dr. Henry, “but there is only a small window for administering this vaccine—between ages 2 months and 8 months.” The vaccine is not effective in older children, and it does not offer lifetime immunity to infants. But it does protect those in whom rotovirus can cause severe dehydration.

Good hygiene is the only other preventive measure. “Hand washing has an impact on all infectious diseases,” says the doctor. “Ask your child’s day care workers to wash often, and try to keep your kids’ hands clean at home and in school.”



The most serious consequence of stomach flu is dehydration, says pediatrician Elizabeth R. Henry, M.D.

Warning signs include:

  • dry, pasty mouth and cracked lips
  • few or no tears when crying
  • eyes that look sunken into the head
  • soft spot (fontanel) on top of baby’s head that looks sunken
  • lack of urine or small amount of dark yellow urine
  • dry, cool skin
  • lethargy or irritability
  • fatigue or dizziness in older children

“For any of these signs, consult your pediatrician,” says Dr. Henry. “The child may need to be evaluated in the office or sent to the hospital for intravenous rehydration.”


Related Read: Keep the Kids Safe this Winter

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