Rotavirus is the leading cause of stomach flu, and this common childhood infection can turn serious fast. Luckily, there are simple ways to treat stomach flu symptoms in babies and toddlers — or prevent it in the first place.Find out why and when your baby needs the rotavirus vaccine.
What is Rotavirus
This contagious viral infection is a leading cause of stomach flu in infants and toddlers, and the most common cause of severe diarrhea in toddlers. Though rotavirus — which circulates between November and April — can infect adults, rotavirus symptoms in babies and toddlers tend to be much more serious because of their developing immune system.
WHAT CAUSES ROTAVIRUS IN CHILDREN:
Rotavirus spreads through the stool of infected people, which is why changing tables and bathrooms are prime areas where the virus can lurk. When people don’t wash their hands well after changing an infected baby’s diaper or infected toddlers don’t wash their hands well after using the potty, they can easily spread rotavirus. Babies and toddlers most often come down with the virus after touching something that’s been contaminated and then putting their hands in their mouths — but the virus can also spread through contaminated water, food, or sometimes even through droplets coughed into the air. Though a child’s first case of rotavirus is often severe, if he gets infected again then the rotavirus symptoms are usually much milder.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF STOMACH FLU:
- Upset stomach and vomiting
- Watery diarrhea, usually lasting three to eight days
- Fever, which usually comes down within the first two or three days after the onset of rotavirus symptoms
- Dehydration (signs of dehydration include lethargy, pale skin, sunken eyes, crying without tears, and few wet diapers)
- Lack of appetite
WHAT TO DO ABOUT STOMACH FLU IN CHILDREN:
Usually you can treat rotavirus symptoms at home (antibiotics won’t work to kill a virus). Your doctor will probably recommend these strategies to ease your little one’s aches:
- Offer your child plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration. For babies who haven’t yet started solids, nurse or give formula. For older babies and toddlers, offer water and liquids that rehydrate like Pedialyte.
- Serve bland foods (bananas, plain pasta, crackers, or toast) that won’t irritate your child’s digestive system any more than it already is — and avoid giving apple juice, dairy products, and sugary foods, which can make your little one’s diarrhea worse.
- Do your best to help your child rest.
WHEN TO CALL THE DOCTOR:
When you suspect rotavirus symptoms, call your pediatrician, especially if your child has bloody diarrhea, excessive vomiting, or a high fever (100.4°F or higher if your baby is less than three months old or 101.5°F if your baby is between three months and three years old). Also, contact your pediatrician right away or go to the emergency room if you notice any of these signs of severe dehydration — which may need to be treated with intravenous fluids in the hospital:
- Your child is lethargic or difficult to wake up
- A significantly sunken soft spot (fontanel) on top of your baby’s head
- Sunken eyes
- Crying without tears
- Infrequent urination or a dry diaper
- Rapid heartbeat
HOW TO PREVENT STOMACH FLU IN CHILDREN:
Rotavirus is extremely contagious, so it’s important to take these steps to keep your child from getting sick:
- Ask your pediatrician about the rotavirus vaccine, which is designed for babies younger than eight months. If you have an infant, you may be tempted to put off this vaccine or even skip it since it’s relatively new (or you think that your baby’s already getting too many shots). Don’t do either. Even though the vaccine doesn’t guarantee your child won’t get the illness, it will make any rotavirus he/she does get less severe: The vaccine can prevent 74 percent of all rotavirus cases, about 98 percent of severe cases, and about 96 percent of hospitalizations.
- Practice good hygiene — wash your child’s hands regularly (and your own!), especially after diaper changes and bathroom visits and before eating — and teach your child hand-washing basics.
- Be extra careful about disinfecting your child’s changing-table area and toys, particularly if you know there has been an outbreak of rotavirus symptoms in your community or day care.