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I recently had to take my 20-month old to the emergency room for a very common illness. I knew that vomiting and diarrhea could cause dehydration, but I didn’t know how fast it could happen in small children and how dangerous it could be. Fortunately, my baby is okay now and I learned many interesting things I didn’t know before about rotavirus, the most common cause of vomiting and diarrhea. I hope that some of these facts can help you prevent or minimize the effects of this virus on your small children.
Rotavirus is extremely contagious and not just while you have it; you can spread rotavirus for 10-12 days after you get it! Had I known this I probably would not have invited my little girl to play with a cousin who had “gotten over it” several days before. Rotavirus lives on the skin for up to 4 hours, on dry surfaces like toys for 10 days, and moist environments for weeks! Take these facts together and you see that a non-sterilized toy can be contaminated 20 days after your child gets sick. Nearly all children will get the “stomach flu” caused by rotavirus by the time they are 5. The first contraction is generally the worst, with subsequent infections being less severe. Even so, the less of the germ your child ingests, the less severe the infection will be. Rotavirus is very abundant in the stool and is contracted orally. Carefully wash hands after changing diapers, and sanitize articles that may have been exposed to leaky diapers. This is especially difficult when your child has rotavirus because it tends to make their poop very watery and abundant. Treatment
Since children will probably contract rotavirus no matter how careful you are, it is important that you keep a close eye on them when they do. I was shocked to learn that my baby was not alone; over half a million children are hospitalized for rotavirus every year in the United States. This is primarily because rotavirus causes the second most severe dehydration of any illness.
There are many tips out there for keeping a child hydrated—they are all over the internet and in magazines for parents. Unfortunately, there is no sure-fire way to get your child to drink, but try everything you can. If they won’t keep anything down try to give them just a little bit (a tablespoon or two) at a time.
The body does absorb a small amount of water through the skin so you may consider giving your child frequent baths. A bath will also help keep fevers down.
There is conflicting information out there on what to give your child when they are at risk of becoming dehydrated, but most will agree that electrolytes are better than anything else. I was specifically warned to avoid apple juice because it can make diarrhea worse.
Don’t be concerned about giving your child food if it makes them throw up. As a mother, it is scary to see your child go so long without food, but the doctors assured me that it was much more important to get her stomach settled so she could drink again.
If your child can eat without throwing up, try giving them yogurt with live cultures. Apparently the bacteria in the yogurt can help minimize the effects of rotavirus. This should be especially effective if administered in the beginning stages of the sickness. Choose bland foods that also have a bulking effect such as: bananas, rice, mashed potatoes, applesauce, crackers, and toast. Again, don’t worry about trying to feed them if they throw everything up. Be on Alert for Dehydration: Adults’ bodies are about 50% water and children’s are over 75% water. When children get the stomach flu, they can very quickly become dehydrated. If they become severely dehydrated, the only treatment is to get immediate medical attention. Keep on the lookout for: reduced tears when crying, dry mouth, increased thirst, irritability, lethargy, and infrequent wet diapers.