Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Stomach Virus Survival Guide

What you don't know about this common ailment can make your kid feel even worse. To help her fight back fast, be sure to learn these six essential facts.

Every parent dreads hearing the three words, "My tummy hurts." Immediately, you start imagining a worst-case- scenario: Your child is totally wiped out for days with nonstop vomiting and diarrhea; your home becomes a breeding ground for germs; and this flu spreads like wildfire through your entire family. Unfortunately, this is a reality. In stomach-virus searson, entire classrooms and child-care centers can be taken by storm.
Thanks to a new vaccine that fights against rotavirus, a common stomach bug, the number of children who are getting sick with this infection has dropped significantly. But there's an increasing number of different strains of norovirus- another major cause of tummy trouble, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. To protect your family, read up on six surprising lessons about the so-called stomach flu.

  1. It's not just in the stomach, and it's not a flu.
    Officially called viral gastroenteritis, a stomach virus also causes inflammation and irritation in the small intestine and has nothing to do with the respiratory virus we call influenza. Influenza is spread through the air when a sick person coughs or sneezes; your child picks up a stomach virus when he touches a surface or an object or eats a food that's contaminated with infected stool or vomit. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramping, fever, and body aches. Diarrhea can last for severl days; most of the other symptoms subside within 48 hours.
  2. Your child might not have a virus at all.
    Doctors can't always distinguish between a stomach virus and food poisoning - or even appendicitis. That's because all three conditions can cause pain & vomiting. However, fever generally doesn't accompany food poisoning, and diarrhea is not often associated with appendicitis. (E.R. docs frequently miss appendicitis in young children, but the telltale clue is sharp pain that starts around the belly button and moves to the lower-right side of the abdoment.) Food poisoning usually comes on suddenly and is gone within 12 hours, says Charlotte Cowan, M.D., author of the children's book The Moose With Loose Poops.
  3. Medication doesn't help- and could hurt.
    "When there's an infection in the gut, toxins get released in the stool," explains Michael Russo, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics at the Children's Medical Center in Dallas. "Antidiarrheal drugs slow down stool production so toxins linger in the body for a longer time. And Pepto-Bismol can turn stools black, making it hard for doctors to determine whether the discoloration is due to something more serious, like blood in the stool." What's more, the adult version of Pepto-Bismol contains an aspirin-like ingredient that increases the risk of Reye's syndrom, a potentially fatal disease. Your pediatrican may, however, prescribe medication for persistent vomiting.
  4. It's fine to feed your child if she's hungry.
    She probably won't feel much like eating, but when her appetite returns, you can give her most of what she normally eats. Doctors now believe that the traditional BRAT diet (bananas, rise, applesause, and toast) doesn't give kids enough protein or calories. Steer clear of high-fat foods like chicken fingers and ice cream, which are harder to digest and may be more likely to be thrown up. Also, avoid spicy foods and fruit juices, which can irritate the gut or cause bloating.
  5. You shouldn't necessarily just wait it out.
    Phone your pediatrician if your child has signs of dehydration, including a lack of tears when he cries, a dry mouth, no wet diapers in 6 hours for babies, or no urination for 12 hours in older kids. Because babies are particularly vulnerable to dehydration, stay in touch with your doctor if your child is 6 months or younger. Also call the doctor immediately if your child has projectile vomiting, bloody or greenish vomit, diarrhea that's bloody or has a jellylike consistency, a tight distended abdomen, shaking chills, or worsening pain. These symptoms can signal anything from a tear in the esophagus to a bowl blockage.
  6. Viruses are contagious, but prevention is possible.
    For starters, if you have a baby be sure she gets the rotavirus vaccine, which is given between 2 and 6 months of age. Researchers are working on a vaccine for the norovirus. For now, the best protection is to wash your hands often and use alcohol hand gel if you can't get to a sink. If someone in your family has a stomach bug, wash hard surfaces frequently with disinfecting wipes. Don't share utensils, cups, pillows, or towels, and cut your child's fingernails to prevent viruses from lingering underneath.

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