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Gastroenteritis — Yucky

It’s that time of year when coughs, colds, tummy bugs are all making an appearance. Tummy bugs are unpleasant for everyone but children are generally more susceptible as children's developing immune systems make it harder for them to fight off viral infections, while their smaller bodies are also at greater risk of becoming dehydrated. So what is it and what can we do.



Tummy bugs, or Gastroenteritis, is an illness due to inflammation of the stomach and the small and large intestines.   Viral gastroenteritis has numerous causes including infectious organisms, viruses, bacteria etc, resulting in food poisoning and diarrhoea.  A leading culprit is known as “Rotavirus”, a common germ that is easily spread through physical contact such as; shaking hands and sharing cutlery.  Rotavirus is especially likely to show up among young children in crèches.  Viral gastroenteritis can pass quickly through a household due to its highly infectious nature.  For most healthy adults it is a minor inconvenience but for small children it can lead to dehydration and they may require medical attention. This is not to be confused with the winter vomiting bug which is a Norovirus . As the symptoms of Norovirus are similar to those of other common viral diarrhoeas like Rotavirus it is necessary to do specific tests to identify the winter vomiting bug.

Diarrhoea & Vomiting

If your child has an intestinal illness, especially one known as gastroenteritis, she/he may lose fluid in the form of diarrhoea. If your child is also vomiting the risk of dehydration is increased. This can be combated by offering fluids, such as ice lollies, ice cream, squash or another liquid your child may like. However do remember that too much sugar intake can inflame the stomach lining as the body may be lacking other vital nutrients such as salt and electrolytes. Depending on how much your child is vomiting and whether he/she's able to keep down any liquids, the doctor may recommend giving an oral electrolyte solution. These solutions help replace lost fluids, minerals, and salts.


Thirst is not a good early indicator of dehydration. By the time your child feels thirsty, he or she may already be dehydrated. Thirst can be quenched before necessary body fluids have been lost. That is why children should start drinking before thirst develops and should consume additional fluids even after the thirst has been quenched. Children with mild gastroenteritis (also called ‘stomach flu’, which can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea) who are not dehydrated should continue to eat normally but be encouraged to drink additional fluid including milk to replace fluid losses. Most children can handle dairy products when they have stomach flu, though a few may have trouble digesting it.

How can I help protect my toddler against gastroenteritis?

Teach your child how to wash her hands thoroughly with soap and warm water after every bathroom visit and before meals or touching food. The same goes for you and other family members.

Tummy bugs are highly infectious and can spread quickly throughout a family so again good hand hygiene is very important and using a bleach solution to clean food surfaces will help to minimise the spread of infection and follow safe food preparation and cooking practices.

See a doctor if your child has ANY of the warning signs in this list:

  • Not willing to drink.
  • Vomiting often for more than four to six hours.
  • Crying without tears
  • Sunken eyes.
  • Wrinkled skin
  • More than six large, watery diarrhoeas in one day.
  • Stomach pain that is severe and does not stop.
  • Less than four wet nappies in one day.
  • Fast breathing.
  • Very sleepy or very fussy.
  • Blood in vomit or diarrhoea.