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Pediatrics - Stomach Flu 

Introduction
The stomach flu, also called viral gastroenteritis, is the leading cause of severe diarrhea.  It can also cause vomiting and abdominal pain.  The virus is found in contaminated food or drinking water.  Symptoms of the stomach flu usually develop within 4 to 48 hours after exposure to the virus.  The goal of treatment is to prevent dehydration while the virus runs its course.

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Anatomy
Whenever your child eats and drinks, food travels through his or her digestive system for processing.  Your child’s body absorbs nutrients and removes waste products via his or her digestive system.  When your child eats, his or her tongue moves chewed food to the back of the throat.  When your child swallows, the food moves into the opening of the esophagus.  The esophagus is a tube that moves food from the throat to the stomach.
 
The stomach produces acids to break down food for digestion.  The stomach processes food into a liquid form.  The processed liquid travels from the stomach to the small intestine.  The liquid solidifies as it moves through the large intestine, forming a stool.  The stool is eliminated from your child’s body when he or she has a bowel movement.

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Causes
There are many viruses that cause the stomach flu.  Rotavirus and Norwalk virus are the most common ones.  The viruses are found in contaminated food or drinking water.  The viruses are frequently spread by poor hand washing.  They can spread among groups of people.  Symptoms typically appear within 4 to 48 hours after exposure to the virus.

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Symptoms
Symptoms of the stomach flu usually last from one to two days.  The stomach flu can cause diarrhea and vomiting.  Your child may experience nausea, abdominal pain, or cramping.  This may cause your child to have incontinence, a bowel movement when he or she does not intend to.  Your child may get the chills or a fever.  Your child’s joints and muscles may feel sore and stiff.  Your child’s skin may feel clammy, and he or she may sweat a lot.  The stomach flu may cause your child to lose weight.  In rare cases, people may vomit blood.
 
The rotavirus can cause severe symptoms in infants, children, and the elderly.  Severe symptoms can lead to severe dehydration and death.  You should consult your doctor if your infant or child has symptoms of the stomach flu.  You should contact your doctor if you are elderly and experiencing severe symptoms.
 
Call your doctor if your child’s stomach flu lasts longer than a few days.  You should call your doctor if your child experiences symptoms including faintness, dizziness, dry mouth, and blood in the stool.  Other symptoms of concern are producing small amounts of urine and having a sunken appearance of the eyes.  An infant may present sunken fontanels, the “soft spots” on the head.

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Diagnosis
Your doctor can diagnose the stomach flu by reviewing your child’s medical history and performing an examination.  You should tell your doctor about your child’s symptoms.  Your doctor may test your child’s stool sample to determine if the symptoms your child is experiencing are from a virus or bacteria.

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Treatment
The main goal of treatment is to promote hydration.  Fluids, salts, and minerals need to be replaced.  Your doctor can recommend fluid replacement drinks for infants and children.
People with severe symptoms or dehydration may need to have fluids administered via an IV line.
 
The stomach virus usually goes away on its own in a few days.  Antibiotics do not work on viruses.

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Prevention
The stomach flu can be prevented with good hand washing.  Hands should be washed thoroughly after going to the bathroom and before handling food. 

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Am I at Risk

Is My Child at Risk?

People with the highest risk for getting the stomach flu include infants, children, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems.

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Complications
The rotavirus can cause severe symptoms in infants, children, and the elderly.  Severe symptoms can lead to severe dehydration and death.  You should consult your doctor if your infant or child has symptoms of the stomach flu.  You should contact your doctor if you are elderly and experiencing severe symptoms.

Call your doctor if your child’s stomach flu lasts longer than a few days.  You should call your doctor if your child experiences symptoms including faintness, dizziness, dry mouth, and blood in the stool.  Other symptoms of concern are producing small amounts of urine and having a sunken appearance of the eyes.  An infant may present sunken fontanels, the “soft spots” on the head.

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Advancements
In 2006 a vaccine was approved to prevent the rotavirus in infants.

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This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.

The iHealthSpot patient education library was written collaboratively by the iHealthSpot editorial team which includes Senior Medical Authors Dr. Mary Car-Blanchard, OTD/OTR/L and Valerie K. Clark, and the following editorial advisors: Steve Meadows, MD, Ernie F. Soto, DDS, Ronald J. Glatzer, MD, Jonathan Rosenberg, MD, Christopher M. Nolte, MD, David Applebaum, MD, Jonathan M. Tarrash, MD, and Paula Soto, RN/BSN. This content complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information. The library commenced development on September 1, 2005 with the latest update/addition on April 13th, 2016. For information on iHealthSpot’s other services including medical website design, visit www.iHealthSpot.com.