Rotavirus gastroenteritis - winter/spring tummy bug
What is gastroenteritis?
Gastroenteritis is an infection of the stomach and intestines causing diarrhoea and vomiting.
Most cases in children are mild, and normally pass within a few days. However, younger children (especially under the age of two) are at risk of dehydration, so it is very important to ensure that they drink plenty of fluids.
Gastroenteritis has many possible causes. However, the rotavirus is the leading cause of gastroenteritis in children, particularly in late winter/early spring. Rotavirus is a virus that infects the stomach and intestine.
Rotavirus infections are extremely common in children. Every child will have at least one rotavirus infection before the age of five, with most infections occurring among children aged between three months and three years old.
Rotavirus gastroenteritis is highly contagious
While most adults are immune to rotaviruses, they are highly contagious among children. Therefore, it is important to keep an infected child isolated from other children until 48 hours have passed after their last bout of diarrhoea and vomiting.
Rotavirus gastroenteritis normally begins with diarrhoea and vomiting. Your child may also have a fever of 38°C (101.0°F) or above - and complain of tummy pain. Symptoms normally last 3-8 days and most cases settle without needing to see a doctor.
When to seek medical advice
You should contact your GP for advice, or phone NHS Direct on 0845 46 47, if:
- symptoms of dehydration persist despite treatment with fluids
- vomiting persists for more than 24 hours,
- diarrhoea is severe and/or it contains blood,
- you notice blood in your child's vomit,
- your child's symptoms do not improve within 48 hours, or
- signs of other illnesses develop, such as rashes, cold clammy skin, or foul smelling urine.
Symptoms of dehydration
Symptoms of dehydration include:
- dry mouth and eyes,
- no tears are produced when the child cries,
- sunken appearance of the eyes,
- weakness, listlessness and sluggishness,
- deep, rapid breathing, and
- passing urine infrequently.
The most important factor during an episode of childhood gastroenteritis is to ensure that your child does not become dehydrated.
You should therefore ensure that your child drinks plenty of fluid, particularly after a bout of diarrhoea. Your child will feel better if the fluids contain some calories for energy, and some salts to replace those being lost with the diarrhoea.
Calories and salt are present in a good balance in oral rehydration salts like dioralyte. If you don't have these then lemonade, weak squash, flat coca cola or lucozade are reasonable short term substitutes.
Oral rehydration salts are flavoured sachets available without prescription. You dissolve them in water. Children under two years of age should drink a quarter to half of a large cup after each bout of diarrhoea. Children who are over two should take half to one large cup after each bout.
If your child vomits after drinking, wait 5-10 minutes before giving them some more. However,ensure that they drink it slowly - for example, you could try giving them a spoonful every 2-3 minutes.
If you are breastfeeding your child, you should try to maintain a normal feeding pattern.
Try to get your child eating regularly as soon as their vomiting is under control and they are wiling to take solid food.There is no evidence to suggest that not permitting your child to eat will shorten their episodes of diarrhoea. Simple foods that are high in carbohydrates, such as bread, rice, or pasta, are recommended.
Treating other symptoms
Symptoms of pain and fever can normally be relieved using paracetamol. Young children may find that liquid paracetamol is easier to digest than tablets.
You should not give aspirin to children under 16 years of age.
The use of anti-diarrhoea medicine is also not recommended for children under 12 years of age.
As gastroenteritis can be very infectious, it is important to take steps to prevent the condition from spreading from your child to other children. Recommended steps include:
- Encourage your child to wash their hands thoroughly after going to toilet, and before eating.
- Thoroughly clean the potty, or toilet, using disinfectant after each bout of diarrhoea and vomiting. Make sure that you include the handle and seat.
- Make sure that you clean your hands regularly, particularly after changing a nappy, or cleaning a potty.
- Do not share your child's towels, flannels, cutlery, or eating utensils with other household members.
- Do not allow your child to return to nursery, or school, until 48 hours have passed since their last bout of diarrhoea and vomiting.