Stomach flu or gastroenteritis in toddlers is quite a common ailment. This is because this illness is quite contagious. Stomach flu is caused by viruses which enter the gastrointestinal tract and incubate in the stomach and the intestine. The symptoms of stomach flu may appear after some time depending on the type of virus which has caused the infection.
How the toddler is infected
The toddler may eat some food which is contaminated with the virus or share a cup or utensil with someone who is already infected with the virus. Small children have the tendency to put their hands in their mouth and that is the way the infection can spread. Little ones tend to put objects in their mouth while playing and this spreads infection.
Toddlers who are left in a day care centre are more susceptible to contracting stomach flu as they are in contact with several other children. Microscopic germs may not show on their little hands but this is how the infection spreads from one child to the other.
Symptoms of gastroenteritis in toddlers
The symptoms of gastroenteritis in toddlers are diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, abdominal pain, chills, a mild fever and body ache. The symptoms may be mild or severe depending on the virus. The symptoms may last for just a few hours or for some days depending upon the severity of the illness.
The main concern when toddlers have stomach flu
The main cause for concern with stomach flu in toddlers is dehydration. A child may lose a lot of body fluids through watery stools and through vomiting. The child should be hydrated by giving her sips of water or getting her to suck on ice pops. In case of severe diarrhea or vomiting the child should be made to sip electrolyte solutions through the day. Too much fluid will induce more vomiting. High sugar foods like juices and sodas should be avoided. A solution of lime juice with water, sugar and salt would soothe the stomach and help it settle. The lining of the small intestine may be temporarily damaged during an attack of stomach flu, making it difficult to digest sweet foods.
What the toddler should eat
Most toddlers can handle dairy products when they have stomach flu, unlike adults. So the child can be given diluted milk to stay hydrated. Once the infection loses its severity the toddler can be given semi solid food, fresh fruits and boiled vegetables. Yoghurt can also be included in the diet as it contains good bacteria and is beneficial. The child should be introduced to semi solid food gradually. The child can then be eased into a light normal diet while omitting fatty foods. The BRAT diet of bananas, rice, apple sauce and toast was once highly recommended for children recovering from stomach flu. Some modern doctors do not recommend this diet as it lacks proteins and other essential nutrients.
If the symptoms of stomach flu are severe and the child is completely dehydrated, immediate medical intervention should be sought. The child may require hospitalization if the vomiting does not stop after two days, or if there is blood in the stool, or if the fever is very high. Some laboratory tests may have to be conducted to check if the infection is viral or bacterial.
Care should be taken not to give the child anti diarrhea medication as this can prolong the illness and also have side effects. If the toddler has fever it can be treated through mild medication or a wet compress.
There is no medication for stomach flu and the symptoms can be treated through fluids and a light diet. The child may be listless and cranky and thus it would be advisable to give her as much rest as possible.
The toddler should be taught and encouraged to wash hands with soap and water, especially before meals and after visiting the bathroom.
Most toddlers recover quickly from stomach flu and they generally do not need any medical intervention.