Gastroenteritis is an infection of the guts (intestines). Many bacteria, viruses and other microbes (bugs) can cause it. It can range from a mild stomach upset for a day or two with some mild diarrhoea to sever vomiting and diarrhoea for several days or longer.
If vomiting occurs, it typically lasts a day or so. Diarrhoea often starts after any vomiting and may last several days. loose motions (stools) can persist for a week or so before a normal pattern returns.
Sometimes it is caused from infected food (food poisoning). Infected water is a cause in some countries. Sometimes it is just "one of those bugs going about". Viruses are common causes of gastroenteritis. Viruses are easily spread from one person to another by close contact or when an infected person prepares food for others.
Good hygiene helps prevent gastroenteritis. Always wash your hands and teach children to wash theirs:
If a child has gastroenteritis, the following are also recommended until symptoms go.
Gastroenteritis normally clears within a week or so. The immune system normally fights off the infection. The following are commonly advised until symptoms ease.
Drinks - give lots to drink. The aim is to avoid dehydration (low body fluid) which is the main possible complication. Even if the child vomits or feels sick it is important to give frequent sips as some fluid will still be absorbed. Ideally fruit juice should be included as this contains some sugar. However, any drink is better than none. If the child will only drink their favourite drink then that is fine. Ice cubes and ice lollies are useful extra sources of fluid.
Rehydration drinks - may be advised by a doctor or nurse. They are used if there is concern about dehydration. They can be taken instead of, or in addition to, normal drinks.
They are made from sachets available from pharmacies. The contents of the sachet are added to water. rehydration drinks provide a perfect balance of water, salt and sugar. They are better than just drinking water alone. The small amount of sugar and salt helps the water to be absorbed better from the gut into the body. They do not stop or reduce diarrhoea but are the best drinks to prevent or treat dehydration. Do not use home made salt drinks as the quantity of salt has to be exact.
Food - do not starve a child with gastroentreritis. This used to be advised but is now known to be wrong. The child should eat as normally as possible. However, if he or she does not want to eat, then that is fine. Drinks are the most important and food can wait until their appetite returns. Offer some food every now and then. Soups and food high in carbohydrate such as bread, crackers and pasta are best to start with.
Breast fed babies - should continue to breast feed if they will take it. Again, this is in addition to extra rehydration drinks if advised.
Bottle fed babies - should be fed with their normal full strength feeds if they will take it. Again, this is in addition to extra rehydration drinks if advised.
Medicines - to stop diarrhoea should never be given to children. They sound attractive remedies but are unsafe to give to children due to possible complications.
Paracetamol - (Calpol, Disprol etc) is useful to ease fever, headache or stomach pains.
Complications are uncommon. See a doctor if any of the following develop or if any other symptoms occur that you are concerned about.