Stomach flu in infants is also called infantile diarrhea, rotavirus gastroenteritis, winter diarrhea and stomach virus. There are different types of viruses which can cause stomach flu in infants. Some of these are rotavirus, adenovirus and astrovirus.
Stomach flu is a viral infection of the gastrointestinal tract and it results in diarrhea and vomiting in infants. The virus travels to the small intestine after entering the infant’s body. It begins to multiply in the intestine and the symptoms are manifested a day or two later. The period between the time when the virus enters the body and the time when the symptoms begin to show is known as the incubation period of the stomach flu virus.
The symptoms of stomach flu in infants can be mild or severe. The baby may show some or all of the symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and mild fever. Normally a mild attack of stomach flu is not a cause for concern and it can be treated at home.
Care should be taken that the baby does not get dehydrated. The baby should be kept hydrated with water or even diluted milk. The baby can also be breastfed as breast milk contains antibodies which will help the infant fight the infection. If there is a lot of loss of body fluids through watery stool and vomiting then the pediatrician may prescribe an Oral Rehydration Solution (ORS) to be sipped throughout the day to keep the baby hydrated.
The parent should be aware of the signs of dehydration in the infant so immediate medical help can be sought.
Signs of dehydration
- The diaper staying dry for very long periods of time.
- Dry lips and crying without tears.
- Excessive sleepiness.
- The child becomes excessively fussy and cranky.
- The hands and feet are cool and discoloured.
- The skin turns wrinkled and the eyes are sunken.
In cases of severe dehydration the infant can be put on a drip in the hospital for a few hours.
Those infants who are exclusively breast fed are less likely to suffer from the stomach flu than those who are on formula milk or on solid or semi-solid food. Some breastfed babies may be sensitive and react to nicotine, spicy food and caffeine in the breast milk, depending on the mother’s diet. This may result in loose motions.
Parents and those handling the infant should take special care to prevent the baby from contracting the stomach flu.
- The baby’s utensils like the cups, feeding bottles, bowls or glasses should be washed with care and kept separate. These should not be shared.
- Personal items like towels, handkerchiefs and clothes should also be kept separate.
- To prevent germs from passing to the baby, hands should be washed frequently.
- Hands should be washed with soap and water before and after feeding the baby or when changing the diapers.
- Older siblings should be taught to wash their hands before playing with the baby or touching the baby’s feeding bottles.
- The baby should play on a clean floor.
- The toys should be clean so that infection does not spread to the infant.
- Babies tend to put things in their mouth so the parent should be vigilant.
- If the baby keeps putting her hands in her mouth, these should be washed frequently.
- The linen in the cot should be clean so that infection does not spread.
- The baby’s drinking water should be boiled, cooled and filtered and then stored in a clean bottle.
- Hygiene should be maintained when preparing the infant’s feed.
- If there is a pet in the house it should be kept out of reach of the baby and the baby’s things.
The infant’s immune system can effectively fight stomach flu. Hygiene and simple home remedies can cure stomach flu in infants.