Norovirus and sickness in toddlers

The Norovirus sickness bug spreads quickly, the symptoms are unpleasant and it's incredibly common. Here's how to treat the dreaded winter vomiting illness

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In a nutshell: If your toddler starts vomiting, and they have diarrhoea as well, the chances are they’re suffering from norovirus – a sickness bug that’s also known as the winter vomiting illness (though you can get it at any time).

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If you think your child has it, Dr Philippa Kaye advises: “I don’t worry so much about children not eating for a day or so while they are unwell – but they must keep up their fluid intake.

“Though just as you couldn’t drink a pint of water at a time if you had diaorrhea and vomiting without chucking it back up your child probably won’t tolerate large volumes of fluids.

Little and often is the key, even 5mls every 5 minutes via a syringe if needs be. If they can't tolerate that, stop urinating or become drowsy or you are concerned please seek medical advice.

If you do want to see if they’ll eat, try giving them small bites of food, for example whole-grain toast and cereal, yoghurt, fruit and vegetables. You can seek medical advice from your pharmacist about the possibility of giving your child rehydration sachets, advises the NHS – but check with your doctor before giving anything like this to a child under 2 years.

What are the symptoms of norovirus in toddlers and young children?

In addition to vomiting and diarrhoea, your toddler may experience:

  • a fever
  • headache,
  • stomach cramps 
  • aching limbs.

Call your doctor if your toddler has a fever of 103F or higher or is showing any of the classic signs of dehydration which are:

  • decreased urination (less than every 6 hours)
  • excessive sleepiness or fussiness
  • sunken eyes
  • extreme thirst
  • dry lips
  • crying without tears
  • cool and discoloured hands and feet.

How long does norovirus last?

The good news is that norovirus should soon pass – symptoms usually last between 12 and 60 hours, with most people feeling better within 48 hours.

How do I stop norovirus from spreading?

Norovirus spreads very easily so it’s important to wipe down all surfaces, including door handles, with a disinfectant spray, and immediately remove and wash any soiled clothing.

“All norovirus is spread via the oro-faecal route meaning that you ingest tiny tiny tiny particles of poo or vomit that contain the virus,” Dr Philippa explains.

“This obviously isn’t done on purpose but happens if you share food/cutlery with someone who has it, or if someone hasn’t washed their hands properly and you touch their hands and then touch your mouth.

Norovirus can be spread by saliva as well so can spread when children suck toys and then pass them along. The virus can live on hard surfaces for days so sharing toys or other items can also cause it to spread.

With this in mind, Dr Philippa advises that the Health Protection Agency has strict rules about school (or nursery) exclusion times for various diseases, telling MadeForMums:

“If your child has had had diarrhoea or vomiting you need to stay off school (or nursery) until it has been 48 hours after their last vomiting or episode of diarrhoea in the hope of preventing it spreading as they will still be shedding the virus in that time.”

Pics: Getty

About our expert GP Philippa Kaye

Dr Philippa Kaye works as a GP in both NHS and private practice. She attended Downing College, Cambridge, then took medical studies at Guy’s, King’s and St Thomas’s medical schools in London, training in paediatrics, gynaecology, care of the elderly, acute medicine, psychiatry and general practice. Dr Philippa has also written a number of books, including ones on child health, diabetes in childhood and adolescence. She is a mum of 3.

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