Diarrhoea and vomiting – symptoms, treatments and prevention
Diarrhoea and vomiting are common amongst schoolchildren because the infection that causes these symptoms spreads when children don’t wash their hands regularly.
What is diarrhoea and vomiting?
Diarrhoea and vomiting, medically known as gastroenteritis, can have a number of different causes. Food poisoning is one cause, but the main cause in children is the rotavirus, otherwise known as the rotavirus gastroenteritis.
The rotavirus infects the stomach and bowel and is spread by infected children who don’t wash their hands properly after going to the toilet. Infected children may leave tiny samples of infected faeces on surfaces or utensils for another child to pick up and become infected.
Is the rotavirus common?
Yes. Every child before the age of 5 will have had a least one rotavirus infection, according to the NHS.
Rotavirus gastroenteritis is especially common throughout winter and spring. The first infection will always be the worst as the body builds up immunity to the virus afterwards, which is why rotavirus infections are rare in adults. However, for children who have never had the infection, the rotavirus is extremely contagious. Poor hygiene usually causes the spread of the infection.
What are the symptoms?
Your child may experience a rapid onset of diarrhoea and vomiting, along with a high temperature and tummy pains.
The nausea will usually pass within a day or two, while the symptoms of diarrhoea may last five to seven days. Most children won’t experience diarrhoea for longer than two weeks. If diarrhoea and vomiting persist for longer then take your child to your doctor.
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If your child has any of these symptoms they may become dehydrated, so make sure they drink plenty of fluids. Signs of dehydration include:
- Dry mouth and ears
- Sunken appearance of the ears
- Not going to the toilet frequently
Do you need to take your child to the doctor?
No. Most cases of diarrhoea and vomiting will normally pass within five to seven days without the need to see your doctor.
However, as mentioned before, if your child’s symptoms persist, head to your doctor. If your child has a severe case of rotavirus they may require hospital treatment.
Should your child go to school?
No. Children with either diarrhoea or vomiting should be kept home from school for at least 48 hours after the symptoms have gone.
If your child has swimming, either at school or at a club, they shouldn’t go for at least two weeks after they have been ill with diarrhoea or vomiting. Even if your child has no symptoms, the rotavirus can still spread to other children via the pool water.
What can you do to help your sick child?
Make sure your child drinks plenty of fluids, especially if experiencing any of the dehydration symptoms mentioned above.
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As soon as your child’s vomiting is under control, encourage them to eat something. Simple foods such as bread, rice or pasta are recommended and there is no evidence to suggest that not allowing your child to eat will shorten their episodes of diarrhoea.
It’s best to keep fizzy drinks and fruit juices away from your child during their sickness as these can worsen their diarrhoea.
If your child feels extremely unwell, you can give them paracetamol, following the instructions on the packet.
Anti-diarrhoeal medicine isn’t recommended for children under the age of 12.
How can you prevent the spread of diarrhoea and vomiting?
Encourage your child to wash their hands with soap after going to the toilet and before eating.
Don’t share cutlery or eating utensils between your child and other members of your household, to stop the infection from spreading.
Make sure you use disinfectant when you clean the toilet after your child has had diarrhoea or vomiting.
What else may your child come into contact with during school?
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