Gastroenteritis in children

Gastroenteritis involves the inflammation of the stomach and bowels which is usually due to a bacterial or viral infection. The two indicative symptoms of gastroenteritis include vomiting and diarrhea that clears up within 5-7 days.

What are the causes of gastroenteritis?

The usual cause of gastroenteritis among children is rotavirus. This virus is passed out in the stools of an infected individual. It can also spread to objects, food or surfaces if the infected individual does not wash hands after using the toilet.

The infection is passed on to others when they touch a contaminated object or surface or consume contaminated food. Take note that young children are prone to this infection since they often forget to wash hands after using the toilet or before eating. In addition, they have not established resistance to the rotavirus.


It is estimated that most children will have at least one infection due to the rotavirus before reaching 5 years old and many can experience a number of episodes in a year.

It is estimated that most children will have at least one infection due to the rotavirus before reaching 5 years old and many can experience a number of episodes in a year. In most cases, children below 4 years old are affected.

It is important to note that gastroenteritis also has other causes aside from rotavirus such as norovirus infection or food poisoning, but these usually affect adults.

When to consult a doctor

In most circumstances, gastroenteritis does not need a diagnosis since the condition typically vanishes without requiring treatment. Nevertheless, a doctor should be consulted if the child has the following:

  • Additional symptoms of a serious condition
  • Indications of dehydration or has a high risk for dehydration
  • Vomiting that lasts longer than 3 days or diarrhea that lasts for more than a week
  • Blood or mucus in the stools
  • Those who have travelled abroad recently
  • Weakened immune system due to an underlying health condition or a side effect of a medical treatment

Management of gastroenteritis

In most cases of gastroenteritis involving children, they are usually mild and pass within 5-7 days without any specific treatment. Nevertheless, young children especially those below 1 year old face a high risk for dehydration, thus it is vital to provide plenty of fluids to drink. Sometimes, oral rehydration solutions are recommended.

In severe cases that involve significant loss of fluids, treatment at the hospital might be required so that fluid replacement can be started intravenously or through the insertion of a tube down the nose. Nevertheless, these are only required in very rare cases.

How to prevent gastroenteritis

Due to the transmissible nature of gastroenteritis, it is vital to take the necessary steps to prevent its spread to others with the following:

  • Encourage the child to wash hands properly after using the toilet and before eating.
  • Regular cleaning of the toilet or potty using a disinfectant after every episode of vomiting and diarrhea.
  • Avoid sharing of utensils, towels, cutlery and flannels used by the infected child
  • Do not allow the child to return to school until at least 48 hours after the last episode of vomiting or diarrhea

Take note that there is also a rotavirus vaccine that is part of the routine childhood vaccination schedule for children 2-3 months old that can help minimize the risk for developing gastroenteritis.


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