What is it?
Gastroenteritis (gastro) is a bowel infection which can cause vomiting and diarrhoea. It is a very common illness in infants and children and, being highly contagious, tends to spread through classrooms and daycare centres.
The vomiting typically lasts for two or three days, but associated diarrhoea may last for up to ten days.
What causes it?
Gastro in children is usually caused by one of a variety of viruses that infect the bowel. It can also be caused by a bacterial infection or occasionally a parasitic infection such as Giardiasis. Gastro tends to be more common during the winter months. Each time your child contracts gastro, it may have a different cause!
What are the symptoms?
Typically in children, gastroenteritis will begin with nausea and vomiting. Children can then develop diarrhoea and associated tummy pain. They will usually not feel like eating or drinking, but it is very important to keep them hydrated. Some other symptoms of gastroenteritis can include:
- Abdominal cramps
- Runny nose
- Lack of energy
If the gastroenteritis is caused by bacteria, some other symptoms can include:
- More severe tummy pain
- Blood or mucus in their poo
What are the treatments?
The main symptoms of gastroenteritis usually last for three or four days, although it may take up to ten days for their bowel motions to become normal. Gastro that is caused by a virus usually needs no medical treatment unless your child shows signs of dehydration. If it is caused by a bacterial or parasitic infection, though, your child will require medical diagnosis and may require antibiotics.
Irrespective of the cause your child’s gastro, the most important thing is to make sure that they keep up their fluid intake and avoid dehydration. The Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne, offers the following guidance on keeping your child hydrated:
Give small amounts of clear fluid often - ie a few mouthfuls every 15 minutes for all children with diarrhoea or vomiting and especially if your child is vomiting a lot. Give older children one cup (150 - 200ml) of fluid for every big vomit or case of diarrhoea.
Gastrolyte,Hydralyte, Pedialyte and Repalyte are different types of oral rehydration fluid that can be used to replace fluids and body salts. These are the best option if your child is dehydrated. For mild gastro without dehydration you can also give water or diluted cordial, but do not give sports drinks, Lucozade, or undiluted lemonade, cordials, or fruit juices.
If you notice any signs of dehydration in your child, such as a dry mouth and tongue, sunken eyes, cold hands and feet, lethargy or a lack of urine, you should seek medical attention immediately.
While gastro is highly contagious, you can minimise the risk of other family members getting sick by practicing routine hygiene such as regularly washing your hands with soap, especially after using the toilet and before eating.
Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne - Factsheet
Children’s Hospital Westmead – Factsheet