Gastroenteritis In Children
Gastroenteritis – What is it? Gastroenteritis is an infection of the intestines (gut). It is usually caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites and other microbes. It can cause varying degree of symptoms ranging from mild diarrhea and vomiting to severe dehydration. Gastroenteritis usually usually last for a few days but in severe causes, it may last longer.
What are the symptoms of gastroenteritis? The commonest symptom is dirrhea. Very often, vomiting can also be a prominent feature. Intermittent cramp pain around the belly button is also common. Pains may subside for a while each time after some watery stool is passed. Fever and headaches are often noted, especially in very young children, where their immune system is still young and fragile.
Diarrhea usually lasts longer than vomiting by several days or more (dirrhea often continues after the vomiting stops). Very often, loose or watery feces may persist for one to two weeks before a normal pattern returns.
What are the causes of gastroenteritis? Viruses are responsible for the major cases of gastroenteritis in children. The commonest virus that causes gastroenteritis being the Rotavirus. It usually causes transient diarrhea and vomiting in children under the age of 5. Viruses are easily transmitted from one person to another by close contact and by consuming food prepared by an infected person.
Gastroenteritis can also be caused by consuming infected food (food poisoning). Vomiting is more prominent than diarrhea in a person who has food poisoning. There are many types of bacteria that can cause food poisoning. Salmonella, Shigella, Staphylococcus and Campylobacter are some of the common ones.
Consumption of contaminated water is also a common cause of gastroenteritis, this is especially true in poorer countries, where outbreaks of severe diarrhea occur. E. coli, the bacterium commonly found in contaminated water, is often blamed.
How can gastroenteritis be prevented? Good personal hygiene is the most important step in the prevention of gastroenteritis. Always wash your hands:
- After using the toilet.
Before touching food.
After playing with animals or pets. (Seemingly healthy animals or pets may carry germs that are harmless to them and harmful to us)
After gardening and handling dirty objects.
After handling raw meat and before handling food ready to be ateen.
How is gastroenteritis treated in children? The single most important complication that we are worried about in children with gastroenteritis is dehydration. Luckily, symptoms commonly settle after a few days once the immune system starts to 'get on top' of things. The following are commonly advised for children with gastroenteritis: Give the child plenty of fluids to drink. The objective is to avoid dehydration (lack of body fluid). It is difficult to encourage fluid intake while the child is still vomiting, however, you should still give sips as some amount of fluid will still be absorbed. Preferably, water should be the main drink given. – Rehydration drinks. These are usually advised if the doctors are concerned about the child's hydration status. Rehydration drinks can easily be bought from pharmacies. They provide the perfect balance of water, electrolyte and sugar that the body needs at times of diarrhea and vomiting. In fact, they are better than just consuming water alone. The sugar and electrolyte in the rehydration drinks actually help water to get absorbed from the gut into the body. Other advice is: the child should eat and drink as normally as possible; medicine should not be given to stop diarrhea and paracetamol can be given to lower temperature and to ease headaches.