Dealing With Those Messy Stomach Viruses

Child stomach pain istockAs school starts up again, runny noses, coughing and other common cold symptoms begin to surface through the classroom hallways and those same germs ultimately make it home. While coughing and runny noses can linger for days, stomach viruses usually erupt quickly and ferociously, making parents everywhere worry about hygiene, hydration, and stopping its contamination so the rest of the household stays well.

Gastrointestinal, or GI infections, are usually caused by bacteria, parasites or viruses. The good news is they are generally common and harmless. However, it’s important to know the basics of how to diagnose and treat those messy stomach issues in a child.

Children living in under-developed countries, surrounded by poor sanitation, will have outbreaks of diarrhea due to intestinal bacteria or from parasites in their drinking water and/or food. However, for those of us fortunate enough to live in the U.S. and other developed countries, bacteria are often spread in public places like childcare and shopping centers or from improperly treated or cooked foods. As fall and winter approaches, we are more likely to be in enclosed spaces for longer periods of time, exposing us to bacteria and viruses that cause diarrhea.

Because the bacteria that causes diarrhea is very contagious, it is easy to spread the disease through improperly washed hands, shared food or objects, pets, and other direct contact with the fecal matter, whether it be changing diapers or cleaning the bathroom toilet. But here’s the good news: if you teach your son or daughter to be diligent with hand-washing, right after using the restroom and before sitting down to eat, their chances of catching a nasty virus decreases considerably!

Even when we are careful, illness can still happen. If your child does indeed get diarrhea, rest-assured mild diarrhea only lasts 1-3 days and children can recover nicely at home with rest and plenty of fluids. Replacement of fluids is key in a quick and safe recovery from diarrhea. When the body loses electrolytes from the stomach flu, whether they are vomiting or having bouts of diarrhea, it’s best to do the following:

  • Continue with your child’s regular diet, as much as possible, replacing lost fluids regularly.
  • If you are treating an infant with diarrhea, offer additional formula or breast milk to compensate for lost fluids.
  • Rely on an oral rehydration solution, or ORS, to replace lost fluids.

Often, parents are not sure what type of replacement fluids should be used in a child suffering from a mild case of diarrhea. Surprisingly, doctors today do not suggest only offering plain water, 7-up, tea or fruit juices. Even sports drinks don’t offer the right mix of sugar and salts to help your child feel better faster. If your child is young, it’s best NOT to rehydrate with water alone because it lacks adequate amounts of sodium, potassium and other important nutrients to fight infection. If you are not sure what type of replacement fluid works best, please contact our office. Most replacement fluids are readily available in grocery stores and pharmacies without a prescription, and often end in the brand names “lyte”.

If you’re worried that your child has a severe case of diarrhea, or cannot keep food in their stomach, it’s best to contact our office so we can consult with you on obtaining a complete list of their symptoms, so we can effectively offer a solution. Some children suffering from a severe case of diarrhea may need to receive IV fluids at the hospital for a few hours to aid them in getting hydrated faster.

Diarrhea, although often a mild illness, is best managed when your doctor knows its severity, what germ may have caused the infection, as well as your child’s age, weight and symptoms.

The pediatricians at Association of Childcare Physicians in Belleville, Ill. have been proudly caring for patients since 1965 and can be your family’s advocate on vaccinations. Our doctors are committed to providing specialized care for children from birth through their adolescent years. Parents can have peace of mind knowing that Dr. Robert Kellow and Dr. Eleanor Shaw always will devote the necessary time and attention to making sure your child is treated with compassionate and thorough care. Our accommodating, fun and friendly environment makes children and families feel comfortable and welcomed. Our doctors and staff respect your time and always aim to keep scheduled appointment times with very little wait.

If you’re looking for a pediatrician in the Metro East Illinois or St. Louis area, or if you are considering changing your pediatric practice affiliation, you have the option to schedule a “Meet and Greet” visit – at no cost to you – to meet with Dr. Kellow or Dr. Shaw. Call the Association of Childcare Physicians today at 618-235-2311 to schedule a “Meet and Greet” appointment or visit us online at