The dreaded stomach virus

During the months of March and April this year it seemed that everyone in Austin had an awful stomach virus!  Viruses causing vomiting and diarrhea are very common in children and often occur 2 or more times/year in kids 5 and under.  In this blog post, My Friend The Pediatrician (, offers tons of useful information in case your little one is battling this illness.  She writes:

“Viral gastroenteritis (aka the “stomach bug” or “stomach flu”) is a VERY common illness that typically starts with vomiting followed by watery diarrhea. On average, children <5 years old will catch two episodes of it every year. With proper hydration, the body can usually fight off the virus all on its own without any need for medical care.

Children with gastroenteritis often don’t want to eat. They may have a low-grade temperature and some cramping belly discomfort. We typically only need to hospitalize these children if they end up dehydrated. Therefore, encouraging PLENTY of hydration is key. Pedialyte and sports drinks (like Gatorade or Powerade) work great. Water, formula, and milk are acceptable too. You know your child is still hydrated if they are urinating at least once every 6-8 hours.

These kids don’t need to change their diet, but it is wise to avoid fatty, spicy, and acidic foods while their stomach is upset. The once-popular “BRAT” diet is no longer highly recommended given its overall lack of fiber, protein, and fat needed for gut recovery. It’s OKAY if a child refuses to eat solid food for a few days, but fluids are essential.

There are no specific medications necessary for the stomach flu. The body will fight off the virus within 24-48 hours. Avoid anti-diarrhea medicines as these can be harmful and prolong the illness.

Be warned: Stomach viruses are SUPER contagious and can spread across the entire family. Everyone needs to be washing their hands like crazy, especially after changing diapers or using the bathroom. It would be wise to quarantine the affected family member(s) to their own bathroom if possible.

Vomiting typically lasts 1-2 days while diarrhea can linger for several days longer. They may develop a temporary sensitivity to dairy for a couple of weeks following the illness as well. Start applying diaper cream to their bums as soon as possible to avoid diaper rash secondary to the diarrhea.

The time to call your doctor is when your child starts to look pale, sickly, or dehydrated. Signs of severe dehydration include excessive fussiness, sleepiness, sunken eyes, cool/clammy hands and feet, and urinating less than 3 times per day.  Seek emergent care if vomit appears bright green or bloody, your child has severe belly pain that doesn’t go away after a few minutes, notable swelling/distension of the belly, bloody stools, or if the vomiting is so bad that they cannot possibly drink enough to urinate at least 3 times per day.

Research has found that probiotics are not especially helpful when it comes to gastroenteritis, so it is OK to save yourself the cost and hassle. As far as prevention: frequent hand-washing, breastfeeding, and Rotavirus vaccines all reduce the likelihood of viral gastroenteritis in young children. “


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