What is gastroenteritis?
Gastroenteritis is also commonly referred to as “The stomach flu”. Despite this common name it is not caused by influenza virus that is protected against with the flu shot. This is a viral infection that can affect people of all ages and is very contagious throughout family members. It is most caused by a variety of viruses although there are some bacteria that can cause these symptoms as well.
Signs and Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of gastroenteritis are vomiting and diarrhea. It can present with only one of these symptoms but fever and vomiting only can be other illnesses and if no diarrhea is present and vomiting persists then you should be seen for evaluation. Often times vomiting starts the process and this can be with or without a fever. Shortly after the vomiting begins diarrhea or looser stools will show up. In infants, a diaper rash is common due to the frequency and the acidity of the stools.
When to call the pediatrician
Call your pediatrician if your child is unable to keep down small amounts of fluids without vomiting them back up, no urine output in 12 hours, lethargy or bloody stools, fever and vomiting without any diarrhea, severe abdominal pain.
What You Can Do
The majority of care for gastroenteritis is focused on maintaining hydration while you wait for the symptoms to pass. The cycle of vomiting can be stopped with small amounts of fluids frequently and increasing as tolerated. This can be done with water or Pedialyte. Start with 1 tsp every 10 min x 1 hour then advance to 1 tablespoon every 10 min x 1 hour then 1 ounce every 10-20 min x 1 hour. You can continue to increase from there. It is hard to take a full cup or bottle away from children when they start drinking and if they guzzle more than this amount it is likely to come back up. Therefore, it is best to only offer the amount you want them to take. This method works for kids and adults of all ages. It is a lot easier to stay hydrated with diarrhea than it is vomiting so if you can stop the cycle of vomiting then you can usually get through this without any other interventions.
Children and adults should adopt good hand-washing habits to reduce the chances of spreading these viruses.