What is Gastroenteritis?
Gastroenteritis in children is an infection of the intestines that causes vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.
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What Causes Gastroenteritis?
Gastroenteritis in children is caused by a variety of factors, including:
- Viral infection
- Bacterial infection
- Ingestion of contaminated food or water
The most common cause is viral gastroenteritis which can cause an inflammation of the stomach and intestines caused by one of several different viruses. These include rotavirus, norovirus, adenovirus, and astrovirus.
Bacterial gastroenteritis is usually caused by Salmonella, Shigella, or Clostridium difficile.
Parasites such as Giardia lamblia or Cryptosporidium can cause gastroenteritis.
Contaminated food and water are another common cause, particularly in developing countries where sanitation is poor and food-and water-borne pathogens are easily spread.
Signs & Symptoms
Children with gastroenteritis may experience a variety of symptoms, including:
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite and dehydration
- Body aches
Children can become lethargic, weak, and confused in severe cases.
It is important to seek medical attention right away if your child is experiencing any of these symptoms.
Common risk factors for gastroenteritis in children include:
- Exposure to other people with gastroenteritis: Children are particularly vulnerable to catching contagious gastroenteritis from others, such as playmates, family members, or caregivers.
- Poor hygiene: Not washing hands properly before eating or touching objects contaminated with germs can increase a child’s risk of gastroenteritis.
- Unsafe food and water sources: Consuming foods handled in an unhygienic manner or drinking contaminated water can lead to gastroenteritis.
- Age: Infants and young children are more likely to develop gastroenteritis than older children due to their immaturity in the immune system and less developed hygiene skills.
- Chronic health conditions: Certain chronic health conditions, such as diabetes or a compromised immune system, can increase a child’s risk of developing gastroenteritis.
Gastroenteritis is diagnosed based on a combination of physical symptoms and the results from laboratory tests.
A doctor may order testing for stool sample analysis to detect bacterial or viral pathogens, as well as other lab tests such as electrolytes and complete blood count.
If there is suspicion that an underlying condition such as food allergies or irritable bowel syndrome is causing the symptoms, additional tests such as an X-ray or CT scan may be necessary.
Early diagnosis and treatment can reduce the duration and severity of the illness.
The primary treatment for gastroenteritis in children is to maintain good hydration status.
Hydration can help by offering frequent, small sips of clear fluids such as water, sports drinks, or electrolyte solutions.
It is important that the child does not become dehydrated and needs medical attention if signs of dehydration are present (decrease in urination, dry mouth, sunken eyes).
Your doctor may suggest an antibiotic if symptoms are severe or not improving with hydration alone.
To prevent gastroenteritis, it is essential to take the following steps:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water. This should be done especially before eating or preparing food, after using the restroom, and after contact with animals.
- Avoid drinking untreated water (including from lakes, ponds, and streams)
- Avoid contact with sick people.
- Prepare and store food properly to avoid cross-contamination.
- Cook foods thoroughly, especially meats.
- Wash fruits and vegetables before consuming.
- Disinfect surfaces that are often touched, such as countertops and doorknobs.
- Avoid sharing dishes, glasses, or utensils with those who are ill.
- Avoid eating uncooked foods such as sushi that may contain harmful bacteria.
By taking preventative measures and seeking treatment as needed, you can help protect yourself from the effects of gastroenteritis.