School is several things—it is the place where our children learn and develop cognitively, gain social skills, thrive to become self-sufficient and productive members of society. Nevertheless, it can also, occasionally, be a place where they may pick up germs and bring them home. Now that school is in session, children can bring back home a `horde` of nasty germs and ailments.
Amongst the most common of these is the `Stomach Flu`! All parents dread hearing this phrase, “Mom/Dad, my tummy hurts”. Instantly, their train of thoughts is running full speed with images of long sleepless nights with a lot of crying, vomiting, diarrhoea, and of course, stress. Unfortunately, this is true in many cases, and maybe you have heard people talking about the stomach flu going around at your child’s school. But what exactly is it?
The term `stomach flu` can be confusing for so many people. In fact, it has nothing to do with the influenza virus or the usual flu that presents with fever, sore throat, cough, runny nose, and body aches. It is acute viral gastroenteritis which is due to a family of viruses (such as rotavirus, adenovirus, calicivirus, astrovirus) capable of attacking the lining of the digestive tract and causing a myriad of distressing symptoms.
Viruses responsible for the stomach flu can be found in the vomit and diarrhoea of infected people and spread from one person to the other. They can live for a long time outside the body. Notoriously, children are exposed to them in school, nurseries, and other shared venues, such as swimming pools. The infection can easily spread through improper handwashing after using the bathroom or from caretakers who omit washing their hands properly after changing diapers or tasks of resemblance. Such viruses can lurk on toys or books and infect the next child. Moreover, the infection can happen by ingesting contaminated food or water.
The stomach flu symptoms usually begin within one to two days after exposure and can last for one to 10 days. Nausea, vomiting and watery diarrhoea represent the hallmark symptoms of this viral gastroenteritis ailment. Other common complaints may include fever, tummy cramps, headache, and loss of appetite.
The most dangerous consequence of stomach flu is dehydration, especially among young children who can become dehydrated very quickly. Parents should be very vigilant for signs of dehydration which include less frequent urination, dark-coloured urine, dry or sticky mouth, dry skin, thirst, fatigue and dizziness.
As with many other viral infections, there is no specific `cure` for the stomach flu. Antibiotics are not an effective treatment since the causative pathogen is of viral origin. If your child gets the stomach flu, your priority should be to prevent dehydration. Focus mainly on getting your child to drink a lot of water, fluids (such as light soup) or over-the-counter oral hydration solutions to replace the fluids and electrolytes lost because of vomiting and diarrhoea. Start with small, frequent volumes and increase it gradually as tolerated. Do not try to force down large amounts of fluid at one time, as this can induce vomiting. Avoid giving your child fizzy drinks or those high in sugar, as it can make diarrhoea worse.
Once you feel that your child can keep fluids down, you can gradually start giving him semi-solid forms of food. Initially, some parents prefer a starchy diet comprising: Bananas, rice, potatoes, and toast. These foods may help ease diarrhoea. Others prefer steamed vegetables and boiled plain pasta.
Take heart! Stomach flu is not a serious ailment for most. It is an infection that regresses spontaneously in the vast majority of cases, and without any lingering complications.
A LITTLE PREVENTION GOES A LONG WAY!
Wash, wash, wash! You can help protect your child from being infected with the stomach flu by teaching him the importance of regular and proper handwashing with water and soap, especially after using the bathroom, before eating, and while at school. Be diligent in explaining why this is important for his health, as well as for others.
If there is one visitor nobody welcomes around his children, it is viral gastroenteritis (known as the stomach flu). It is an unpleasant experience and can be physically and emotionally draining when your child is suffering. Dehydration is every parent's biggest worry. So, in case your child gets sick, you need to keep him well-hydrated and watch for any signs of dehydration. If you notice any of it, seek your paediatrician's help without delay.
At the Dubai London Clinic and Speciality Hospital, our paediatricians pride themselves on providing compassionate and comprehensive preventative and therapeutic services to all children from birth through adolescence within a warm and child-friendly environment.
We wish your splendid child a successful, thriving, and healthy academic year.
The Department of Paediatrics
THE DUBAI LONDON CLINIC AND SPECIALITY HOSPITAL