This post was written by WhiteCoat Partner Paediatrician, Dr Lim Yang Chern. Find out more about WhiteCoat’s General Paediatrics service here.
What causes stomach flu and how do I prevent it?
Stomach flu, also known as “gastroenteritis” or “gastro”, is an infection of the stomach and / or intestines. Germs which are commonly viral in nature can cause this condition when ingested. Also, ingesting bacteria present in contaminated food, for example Salmonella and E. coli, can lead to stomach flu.
Children are most vulnerable to infections. In the case of stomach flu, viral particles causing the condition can remain infectious on surfaces for prolonged periods of time, for days to even weeks! As a result, children who touch these infected surfaces and proceed to feed themselves with the same hands end up ingesting the germs and falling sick.
Due to how stomach flu is spread, it is important to incorporate good hygiene practices at homes, childcare centres, and schools. In these environments, it is important that surfaces are routinely cleaned before meal times. It is also crucial to instill good personal hygiene habits in children. Such habits include thorough hand washing, and a no-sharing policy for utensils, cups or bowls.
What are the common symptoms? How can I be sure that my child is indeed suffering from stomach flu?
Symptoms of stomach flu include nausea with loss of appetite. Often, you may find your child vomiting, with an inability to retain food or even medication fed orally. Diarrhoea and fever are also common with stomach flu infections. However, vomiting alone is not indicative of stomach flu, as many other conditions in their early stages may also cause vomiting.
The presence of both of acute onset vomiting and diarrhoea is more suggestive of stomach flu.
Many children with stomach flu will also experience stomach pain, which may be caused by vomiting or colic from the diarrhoea. Colic refers to frequent, prolonged and intense crying or fussiness in your child. When your child is in a state of colic, you may find them hard to console. In the case of stomach flu, colic is very likely due to diarrhoea. This is because their intestines are unable to push the liquid stools down, causing intermittent cramps and pain, thus creating discomfort.
What can I do to help my child?
The key management principle for stomach flu is the maintenance of good hydration.
Children who experience both vomiting and diarrhoea literally lose fluids from both ends of their gut. If they are unable to retain orally due to persistent vomiting, they run the risk of severe dehydration!
Small frequent feeds comprising water, salt and sugar are key to rehydrating your child. For example, porridge water is a great choice of feed for your child. Giving small and frequent feeds reduces the chances of over-distension of the stomach, allowing for food to enter the intestines.
However, you should not give your child just plain water. Doing so can cause overdiluting of the salt levels in the blood. This can potentially be a dangerous situation, and can even cause seizures! Alternatively, you can also consider commercial oral rehydration solutions, including Pedialyte or Hydralyte. These sweetened solutions are more palatable for children, without containing too much sugar.
The aim of feeding during this period should be to maintain, at the very least, the usual amount of fluids that the child takes. Do give additional feeds to your child, should he / she experience large vomits or stool losses.
For children with stomach flu, feeding often triggers the reflex act of passing motion. However, do not mistake this as a cue to reduce food intake! Rather, continue feeding your child to ensure good hydration.
How teleconsulting a Paediatrician can help
Your Paediatrician can take a history to clinch the diagnosis with the help of parents. He / she can assess the severity of symptoms, and provide an initial assessment of hydration levels. Conditions such as appendicitis that may also mimic stomach flu, so do consider getting your child assessed.
Teleconsulting during the pandemic is also an excellent way of keeping your child safe. Conducting the first assessment virtually can allow parents to minimise both the child’s risk of exposure, and transmission of the infection to others.
Following the teleconsult, your Paediatrician can go on to assess if an in-person consultation is required. For example, you may be recommended an in-clinic consultation for refining the diagnosis, assessing the severity of illness or for providing any other special treatments.
Should you observe persistent or even worsening symptoms, teleconsult a Paediatrician on the WhiteCoat app with your child for stomach flu. Experience the convenience of remote care for your child, and receive the required care and medication from the comfort of your own home. Click here to find out more about our General Paediatrics service, or click here to go back to the blog.