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Rotavirus Gastroenteritis

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Rotavirus Gastroenteritis


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Bacterial Infection
Rotavirus is a virus that infects the stomach and intestines and is the most common cause of gastroenteritis (stomach upsets) in children. The virus is passed on via faeces and there are many ways in which this can happen. Hands are commonly implicated in the spread of rotavirus, with the virus being picked up when using the toilet, by touching a child's potty, or cleaning up body secretions such as vomit from a sick child. It is so infectious that it can even be spread by small droplets in the air, which can then be breathed in through the mouth or nose.

Rotavirus gastroenteritis is extremely common in young children, usually affecting those aged 3 months to 3 years, with most children being infected at least once by the age of five. As natural immunity to rotavirus builds up with each infection, repeat infections tend to be less severe and adults rarely become ill from rotavirus. Infection is most common in the winter and spring months.
Diarrhoea and vomiting usually come on very quickly and last 3 to 8 days. These may be associated with fever (temperature of 38?C or above) or abdominal pain. The infection will usually clear up by itself. In more serious cases, dehydration may occur. The symptoms to watch out for include dry mouth and eyes, no tears when crying, sunken eyes, weakness or sluggishness, deep and rapid breathing, and infrequent urination. Children under 1 year of age, particularly those under 6 months are more likely to get dehydrated. Children who have had more than 5 episodes of diarrhoea or 2 episodes of vomiting in the last 24 hours, or those who have stopped breastfeeding because of the illness may also be at increased risk of dehydration.
Most children can be safely cared for at home. The most important thing to do is to ensure your child does not become dehydrated so make sure he or she drinks plenty of fluids in small portions. Oral rehydration solutions (ORS) are recommended and should be available from your local pharmacy. You should use ORS before you consider seeking advice from your GP.

Eating should be encouraged as soon as the vomiting is controlled - simple foods such as rice, bread and pasta are recommended. Additionally, juices and soups can help restore fluid levels as well as provide nourishment. However, fruit juices and carbonated drinks should be avoided until the diarrhoea has stopped. You can relieve fever and pains using paracetamol. However, you should not use antidiarrhoea medicines on children under 12 years of age without consulting your GP.

In more severe cases of dehydration, your doctor may decide that fluids and nutrients need to be given intravenously (directly into the vein). This will require your child to be admitted into hospital.
When to consult your doctor
You should consult your doctor if:

  • Symptoms do not improve within 48 hours
  • Vomiting lasts longer than 24 hours or contains blood
  • Diarrhoea is severe or contains blood
  • Symptoms of dehydration persist despite treatment with fluids and ORS
  • Other symptoms occur such as muscle tremors, cold and clammy skin, or foul-smelling urine.
Practising good food hygiene can help prevent gastroenteritis in general. This includes:

  • Regular washing of hands with soap (preferably liquid soap) and warm running water and then carefully drying them - particularly after going to the toilet and before eating or preparing food
  • Regular cleaning of surfaces and utensils
  • Storing raw and cooked foods separately
  • Refrigerating food
  • Cooking food thoroughly
  • Never eating food past its use-by date.
If someone in the household has gastroenteritis, additional precautions may help limit the spread of infection. These include:

  • Not sharing items such as towels and cutlery between children
  • Not bathing children together or re-using the bathwater
  • Washing your hands after dealing with body fluids such as vomit or diarrhoea
  • Washing soiled linen separately
  • Disinfecting the potty or toilet, including handle and seat, after each bout of vomiting or diarrhoea
  • Keeping your child from nursery for 48 hours after last bout of vomiting or diarrhoea
  • Keeping your child from using swimming pools for two weeks after their last episode of diarrhoea.
Did you know?
Almost all children will get at least one rotavirus infection by the age of 5 years. There are measures you can take to prevent infection - see the'prevention' section of this page.
You can also speak to your GP about other prevention measures.

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