Stomach Bugs in Children

Watch this video where a pediatric doctor explains stomach bugs in children.


Stomach Bugs in Children

Mercedes M. Blackstone, MD: I'm Mercedes Blackstone. I'm a pediatric emergency medicine doctor at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

We see a lot of kids come to the emergency room with stomach bugs and this video will hopefully address when they need to come and when they could be cared for at home or at a doctor's office.

The medical name for a stomach bug is Gastroenteritis. A stomach bug is usually caused by a virus that causes, vomiting or diarrhea and often can be accompanied by fever. Gastroenteritis is extremely common; almost all children will have had a stomach virus by the age of two.

Gastroenteritis typically lasts in the neighborhood of three to seven days but sometimes it shorter and unfortunately sometimes it's longer. Most of the time, just like when adults have a stomach virus, children can be safely cared for at home by keeping them hydrated, making sure they get plenty of rest and giving them medicines if they need it for fevers. It's fine to give children over six months of age Motrin or Tylenol for a fever to keep them more comfortable.

The biggest problem with a stomach virus is, is that they put children at risk for dehydration and as you're getting dehydrated, you start to feel lousy, kids are lying around more and not as playful. And that often makes parents very concerned. A lot of parents think that when they come to the Emergency department, we're gonna put an IV in and give them fluids that way. Fortunately, we can use a method called Oral Rehydration Therapy or ORT and usually we can we avoid IV fluids.

And since ORT really just involves giving small amounts of fluid frequently, it's something that caretakers can do at home and a lot of times you can avoid a trip to the doctor's office or the ER.

Children with mild stomach bugs often can keep themselves hydrated at home. If they're having diarrhea, you just wanna get more fluids into them then are coming out, so encourage them to drink extra fluids. But if your child has a lot of vomiting or diarrhea and really can't seem to keep any fluids down, that may be a good time to start ORT. Usually even an upset stomach can handle small, frequent amounts of fluid and that's really the mainstay of our treatment.

Pedialyte or watered down juice is a better choice than just giving water. Water will prevent dehydration but really doesn't replace any of the salts or sugars that they may be losing.

Children have a decreased appetite and don't wanna eat or drink when they're sick. While it’s often a concern to parents that children are eating normally; it's okay as long as they are maintaining their hydration and drinking. They'll start eating again once they're feeling better.

Kids can usually return to day care or school setting once they no longer having vomiting, diarrhea or have fevers. Reasons to call the doctor when your child has a stomach bug are; when you’re concerned for dehydration. So a lot of times that means you're worried that they're losing more fluid then you can get into them.

Signs of dehydration include; being tired or listless, not crying with tears but inside of the mouth may look more dry and most importantly children will not be urinating as often. Children who have persistent vomiting even with oral rehydration therapy or high fevers for days or severe abdominal pain, bloody diarrhea or bloody vomiting may need to see a provider.

Young children and children with chronic medical problems are at increased risk of dehydration. So children under 6 months or with medical problems should be evaluated by a provider. You can always call your doctor if you have any questions about your child's health.

It's our hope that if you follow these steps, children will be back to their usual activities within a few days. If you have any concerns about their health, we're here to help.

Topics Covered: Stomach Bugs in Children, Vomiting

Related Centers and Programs: Primary Care Locations

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