Girl holding her stomach Stomach bugs, also called gastroenteritis, are very common in young children and can cause vomiting, diarrhea and sometimes a fever. Gastroenteritis typically lasts in the neighborhood of three to seven days, but sometimes it can be shorter and, unfortunately, sometimes it lasts longer.

What causes stomach bugs?

Many stomach bugs are caused by viruses such as rotavirus and norovirus. Both are highly contagious viruses. A child or adult may become infected more than once, but, usually, the initial case is the most severe and subsequent infections are milder.

How to prevent stomach bugs

The best way to prevent catching a stomach bug: thorough hand washing. Everyone in your family should wash their hands with soap and water before eating and after using the bathroom. If you have an infant, be sure to follow proper handling and disposal of dirty diapers. Get more tips on how to prevent the stomach flu.

How to care for a child with a stomach bug at home

You can treat stomach bugs at home by making sure your child keeps drinking fluids and gets plenty of rest.

The best way to keep your child well hydrated is with an electrolyte-containing solution such as Pedialyte®. Have your child take small sips frequently — meaning every five minutes or so — throughout the day. Avoid having them fill their stomach too much at once, or it might come back up. Also avoid anything too high in sugar, such as soda, juices or sports drinks, as these might make the diarrhea worse. Water will prevent dehydration but doesn’t replace any of the salts or sugars that your child may be losing.

For a breast-feeding infant, give breast milk or formula.

Your child might be fussy and resistant to drinking. It’s important to get through the first few times. As your child drinks, they’ll start feeling better.

Continue with solid food if your child can tolerate it. Your child may vomit a few times as they adjust. That’s OK. Take a step back by giving them smaller amounts of food and drink and work up from there. Soon your child will be back on the road to good health with lots of energy.

When to seek medical care

In most cases, you can safely care for a stomach bug at home. It is important, however, to watch for signs of dehydration, which can occur quickly, especially in infants.

Symptoms of dehydration include:

  • Lethargy
  • Irritability
  • Thirst
  • Paleness
  • Sunken eyes
  • Decreased urine output

If you have any concerns that your child is dehydrated, call your pediatrician or go to an urgent care or emergency department. For children younger than 6 months and children who have health problems that make dehydration more likely, call your doctor for advice.

Also seek medical care if your child has a fever that lasts several days, has severe abdominal pain, or has bloody diarrhea or vomit.

In this video, a CHOP emergency room doctor shares more tips: Watch "Direct from the Doctor: Stomach Bugs in Children."

How to keep others in your household from getting sick

Rotavirus and norovirus may live on inanimate surfaces, such as doorknobs, toys and hard surfaces, for quite some time. If someone in your household vomits or has diarrhea due to a stomach bug, clean and disinfect hard surfaces in the area. Put on rubber or disposable gloves, clean up the area, then disinfect the area using a bleach-based household cleaner.

Anyone who is sick should not be in areas where food is being prepared.

Be diligent, and your family will get through this!

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