Gastroenteritis in Babies

Gastroenteritis in babies is sometimes referred to as "stomach flu" or "the flu". Flu refers to influenza, a respiratory illness. Stomach flu is a viral infection in the digestive tract. Gastroenteritis is derived from "gastro" which refers to the gastric system and "itis" which means irritation or inflammation. Most babies suffer from gastroenteritis at least twice every year. The infection is more frequent for kids in day care. The frequency reduces after babies turn 3 years old because their immunity is stronger at this age.

What Causes Gastroenteritis in Babies?

Gastroenteritis is an infection that inflames the digestive tract lining. Symptoms of gastroenteritis in babies may include abdominal pain, achiness, vomiting, fever, diarrhea and chills. These symptoms may be mild or severe and could last for hours or days.

The most common cause of gastroenteritis is infection from viruses like rotavirus. Viral gastroenteritis is transferred from hand to mouth, and from children who have this infection. Hence, children in crowded settings including schools and childcare centers are at high risk of the infection.

Bacteria, like Shigella, E.coli and Salmonella, and parasites, like Giardia, can also cause gastroenteritis. Bacterial gastroenteritis may result from touching animals with bacteria such as reptiles and amphibians. Children can also contract it from consuming raw eggs and meats, contaminated foods, shellfish, contaminated water and unpasteurized juices or milk. Besides, gastroenteritis may result from allergic conditions and from cats and dogs with diarrhea.

How to Remedy Gastroenteritis in Babies

Gastroenteritis in babies can be treated through diet and medications. Some of the remedies of gastroenteritis are outlined below.

1. Get the Right Kind of Fluids

Gastroenteritis may lead to dehydration because the body loses more fluids than it absorbs. Hence, you must keep your baby hydrated.

  • Taking water is good but it is not always enough because water does not replace the electrolytes, such as minerals and salt, lost through dehydration. In this case, oral rehydration or electrolyte solutions are recommended, which can be bought from any drug store. You should give the solution in small sips throughout the day to keep your baby hydrated. You doctor can recommend the amount of solution for your baby depending on his or her weight and age.
  • Some sports drinks may replace the lost electrolytes but most of them contain lots of sugar. They are harmful to young children but can be given to teenagers and school-aged children.
  • Do not give your child milk because milk worsens stomach infections. Consult your doctor about giving formula or breastfeeding your baby.
  • Avoid drinks that contain caffeine or a lot of acid such as orange juice.
  • Too much fluid may worsen vomiting. So give your baby the recommended fluids in little amounts and then increase the amount slowly.

2. Give Foods to Kids with Care

You can introduce bland foods once your baby can take fluids without vomiting. Bland foods include rice, potatoes, bananas, bread, plain yogurt, toast and crackers. If your baby feeds well on these foods, you can introduce cooked vegetables and lean meat.

3. Avoid OTC Medication

The best medicine for gastroenteritis in babies is time. Although it is hard to watch your baby suffer, do not give any over-the-counter medicines. These medicines worsen the infection instead of treating it. For instance, ibuprofen may worsen a stomach upset, while acetaminophen causes liver complications. Antibiotics treat bacterial disease but not viral diseases. Besides, they may prolong the infection and are dangerous for very young children. However you can give ibuprofen or acetaminophen if your child has a fever. Otherwise, just give bland foods and fluids.

When to Worry About Gastroenteritis in Babies

It is advisable to call your pediatrician whenever your child is unwell and under 6 months. Your child maybe be admitted to hospital and receive drip for some hours if your doctor is worried about his or her dehydration. Always call your doctor if your child:

  • Vomits over 5 times in one day
  • Passes stools more than once every hour
  • Suffers from a fever of more than 101°F
  • Passes stool with blood
  • Is dehydrated
  • Has a hard or swollen stomach

The commons signs of dehydration are:

  • Sunken eyes and wrinkles on the skin
  • Crying without shedding tears and with dry lips
  • Discolored and cold feet and hands
  • Dry diapers or less than 6 wet diapers in a day
  • Fussiness and oversleeping
  • Sinking soft spots      

How to Prevent Gastroenteritis in Babies from Happening

Some of the ways of preventing gastroenteritis in babies include:

1. Get the Vaccination

The vaccine against gastroenteritis from rotavirus is available in the United States and some other countries. Children should get this vaccination in their first year. The vaccine prevents severe symptoms of gastroenteritis.

2. Keep Your Hands Clean

Wash your hands frequently and teach your children to wash their hands, especially after visiting the toilet. Use warm water and soap to wash your hands thoroughly for about 20 seconds and then rinse. Remember to clean your hands' creases, cuticles and corners beneath your fingers. Use a hand sanitizer and towelettes whenever warm water and soap are unavailable.

3. Use Disinfectants to Clean Hard Surfaces

When a family member has the viral infection, you should use disinfectant to clean hard surfaces like doorknobs, faucets and counters. You can make your own disinfectant by adding two cups of bleach to a gallon of water.

4. Inspect Your Child's Care Center

Ensure that your child's care center has different rooms for preparing food and changing diapers. The center should have a table for changing diapers and a bin for disposing diapers.

5. Other Measures to Prevent Infection

  • Avoid contaminated water and foods or any raw foods.
  • Do not share towels, glasses, plates and eating utensils at home.
  • Keep your distance from anyone who has the viral infection where possible.
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