Stomach flu in children

Stomach flu in babies (gastroenteritis)


What is the stomach flu or gastroenteritis?

Stomach flu (also called gastroenteritis or ‘D and V’ for diarrhoea and vomiting) is a general term for a host of infections that can cause symptoms like:

  • abdominal pain
  • diarrhoea
  • vomiting,
  • fever
  • chills and aches
  • loss of appetite

Most babies and toddlers get an upset stomach, on average thrice a year. This may cause mild diarrhoea and vomiting. It usually only lasts 24-48 hours and is not often a cause for concern. But in some cases the illness can last for upto a week or even longer. With plenty of fluids and some tender loving care, most babies are soon back to normal.

What causes the stomach flu or gastroenteritis in babies?

A virus is most often the culprit, the most common being the rotavirus. In other cases, the cause may be a form of food poisoning bacteria, such as Salmonella, Shigella, Staphylococcus, Campylobacter, or E. coli. Parasites such as Giardia or Cryptosporidium may also cause gastroenteritis.

Symptoms usually appear within four to 48 hours of exposure and usually last for a day or two. In severe cases, they can go on for up to seven days. Exclusively breastfed babies are less likely to get an upset stomach than babies on formula milk or babies who are on solid foods. Even breastfed babies, if sensitive, can react to spicy foods, excess nicotine, caffeine, chocolates, or food additives in the breast milk. This may result in loose motions but it doesn’t usually cause vomiting. Some medications like antibiotics can also cause diarrhoea.

How should I treat my baby’s stomach flu?

Fluids are the key to treating an upset stomach. If your baby has diarrhoea and is throwing up, there is a risk that she will get dehydrated. As long as she stays hydrated, she will be able to fight the infection. So give her sips of water, coconut water, lemon water or lassi and if she is breastfed, let her feed every so often so she gets plenty of the watery foremilk. Your breastmilk contains antibodies which will help her fight the infection.