Norovirus and sickness in toddlers: how to spot and treat it

Norovirus, which is also known as the winter vomiting bug, causes diarrhoea as well as vomiting and is highly infectious. Here's how to spot if your child has it, how to care for them if they do – and when to seek medical advice

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In a nutshell: If your toddler starts vomiting, and they have diarrhoea as well, they could have norovirus, a highly contagious sickness bug that’s also known as the winter vomiting illness – though toddlers (and babies, older children and adults) can actually get it at any time of the year. If your toddler does have norovirus, it’s important to make sure that they are drinking enough to replace the amount of fluid they’re losing because of the vomiting and diarrhoea.

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What are the symptoms of norovirus in toddlers?

With toddlers and young children, the main symptoms are:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhoea – loose, watery, more frequent poos
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Stomach cramps 
  • Aching limbs
  • Decreased appetite

Symptoms tend to last between 12 and 60 hours. Most children feel better within 48 hours, although the diarrhoea may persist for 5 days or so.

I think my toddler has norovirus. What should I do?

You can give your child an age-appropriate amount of paracetamol or ibuprofen if they have a high temperature. But the key to treating any diarrhoea and vomiting illness is to keep up your child’s fluid intake.

Go gently here, though. Just as you couldn’t drink a pint of water if you had diarrhoea and vomiting without bringing it back up, your child probably won’t be able to tolerate large volumes of fluids all at once. Little and often is the key – even 5ml every 5 minutes via a syringe if needs be. For younger toddlers and children, put the syringe between their lower teeth and cheek as that way they are less likely to spit out the liquid.

You can could also ask your pharmacist about the possibility of giving your child rehydration sachets, such as Dioralyte, which might help. Your pharmacist can advise you on whether this is appropriate or not, depending on your child’s age.

Your child may not want to eat much. You could try giving them small amounts of food – plain wholegrain toast, yoghurt, fruit, for example – but don’t worry too much about their lack of appetite.

I know, as a parent myself, how much we worry when our children don’t eat but eating less for a few days when they are unwell is not a concern – as long as they are drinking and urinating
Dr Philippa Kaye, expert family GP
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Is norovirus dangerous for toddlers? When should I seek medical help?

Most toddlers and small children with norovirus will start to feel better within 48 hours, even if some of the symptoms haven’t completely gone. But you should seek medical help if:

  • Your child can’t tolerate 5ml of fluid every 5 minutes
  • Their fever won’t come down with paracetamol or ibuprofen
  • They stop weeing for more than 6 hours
  • They are drowsy or floppy
  • You are concerned and feel something isn’t quite right

How do I stop norovirus from spreading?

Norovirus is spread when tiny particles of poo or vomit that contain the virus pass from the infection person to the mouth of another person (medics call this the faecal-oral route of infection).

The infection can spread this way 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 or bedding. Don’t share cutlery, dishes, cups or glasses.

Norovirus can be spread when children suck toys. The virus can live on hard surfaces for days, so sharing toys or other items can also cause it to spread.
Dr Philippa Kaye

If your toddler usually goes to nursery or a childminder, then, to prevent the infection spreading, your child should stay at home until 48 hours after the last episode of vomiting or diarrhoea as they will still be infectious until the 48-hour period has passed.

About our expert Dr 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.

Last updated 17 July 2021

Pics: Getty

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