stomach bug
Health and safety

What to do when your child has a stomach bug

Every parent dreads their child getting a stomach bug – Arlene Harris finds out what to do if your child has diarrhoea and vomiting and when to get medical advice.

We all know the discomfort and unpleasant feeling of having a stomach bug. Cramps, nausea, vomiting and a general feeling of malaise can be difficult for even the sturdiest of adults to cope with, so it is hardly any wonder that when babies succumb to any form of tummy problems, they find it very difficult to bear.

Infection

Sarah McNamara knows only too well how much of a toll these stomach viruses can take. Last month her whole family was affected. Brought into the house by her five-year-old daughter, the bug quickly spread throughout the family, with her 10-month-old baby suffering the most.

“Shauna must have caught a bug in school as she came home one day and said she felt very sick before throwing up in the living room,” says Sarah, who is married to Paul. “I cleaned her up and put her straight to bed with bowl beside her in case she had any more accidents – which of course she did in the middle of the night.

stomach bug

“She was still feeling sick the following day and I was running around looking after her and trying to keep the baby away from her. But of course, later the next day, baby Alice threw up her lunch and I knew I was in for a rough few days, particularly as I had started to feel nauseous as well.

“Alice was in bits for two days and it was a total nightmare – she had a temperature, was throwing up everything, even water and crying all the time. She also had diarrhoea which of course made her sore as well and to be honest, I was very worried about her as it seemed to hit her so hard.”

Struck down

We all know that a mother’s job is never done and not only did Sarah have to look after both of her children, but she also was struck down with the same illness.

“In the middle of looking after Shauna and Alice, I was also being sick,” she says. “Typically, Paul felt very ill but didn’t actually throw up which I guess was because he didn’t spend too much time with the kids – but I was feeling wretched, which meant I was less able to look after the girls. I rang my GP who said to try and get fluids into them (and myself), make sure to wash hands as much as possible and if they didn’t feel better after a day or so, to bring them in to see her.

“Luckily, it seemed to be a 24-hour bug so Shauna got better first and her demands for drinks and food really took it out of me, but then Alice was able to keep down some water and later on some toast, so I knew we were over the worst of it. It didn’t last long, but it was a really horrible experience, which I hope we don’t have to go through again any time soon.”

Ease the symptoms

A spokeswoman for the HSE says although there is very little we can do to prevent our children from contracting stomach bugs, there are a few ways in which we can ease their discomfort and keep the spread of the virus to a minimum.

stomach bug

“If your child develops a stomach bug, keep them home from crèche or school and make sure they practice good hand hygiene to avoid spreading the infection to others,” she says. “Do not offer any food until six hours after the last vomit but keep them hydrated by offering sips of clear fluid such as flat white lemonade, sports drinks or oral rehydration solutions available without prescription in pharmacies.

“Breast fed babies can continue to be offered breast milk and bottle fed babies should be able to tolerate small milk feeds.” The health expert says keeping clean is the only action which can be taken to prevent the spread of the virus. “Be very careful about washing your hands after changing nappies or cleaning up vomit spills, which should be cleaned with hot water and detergent before disinfecting the area with dilute solution of household bleach,” she advises.

“There isn’t much treatment available for children as anti-vomiting medicines are best avoided unless specifically advised by your doctor and likewise, do not give your child antibiotics if they are vomiting as they will not help and may do further damage.”

Keep a close eye

But despite the fact that stomach bugs are commonplace and little can be done to prevent or treat them, Dr Mark Murphy says parents need to be vigilant to ensure something more serious isn’t occurring. “Most stomach bugs are airborne so children will invariably pick them up at some point or other,” he says. “But while they are two-a-penny, it is important to keep a watchful eye, particularly on small children as they can get sicker very quickly.

stomach bug

“If a child is listless, lethargic, very dehydrated and has diarrhoea or vomiting for a sustained period of time, it is important to seek medical help – so I would advise parents to keep a good watch on their children and if they deteriorate quickly, contact a doctor straight away.”

Need to know:

  • Vomiting and diarrhoea can occur on their own or together.
  • Gastroenteritis is the most common cause and is due to an infection from contaminated food or close contact with someone else who has symptoms.
  • Children’s vomiting bugs usually last between six and 12 hours and diarrhoea between 24 and 48 hours.
  • Usually there is no specific cure and you need to let the illness run its course.
  • But make sure your child drinks plenty of liquids to make sure they don’t become dehydrated.
  • Anti-vomiting and anti-diarrhoea medicines are not generally recommended for children.
  • And remember, the younger the child the sooner you should seek help and always contact your doctor if you are worried.

Seek medical help if:

  • Your child’s vomiting persists for more than six hours.
  • You notice blood in your child’s vomit.
  • Your child complains of bad tummy pain with vomiting.
  • Your child cannot keep down any fluids and you are worried that they are becoming dehydrated.
  • Your child is on regular medication and cannot take it.
  • You are worried.

More info at www.undertheweather.ie and www.hse.ie

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Ask Sarah

Q I’ve heard a lot about the Paleo diet and as I am very interested in reducing the amount of processed foods and grain based meals my family eats, we are considering following this diet. From what I read it seems to be a back-to-basics type of eating. Is a Paleo diet safe for children? My kids are aged seven and nine.

A The Paleo diet is one of the most fashionable diets around at the moment. It is also known as the ‘caveman diet’ and is based on cutting out processed foods, starchy foods like bread and potatoes and eating more meat, vegetables and fruit.
As fad diets go, it is not the worst but there are some good and bad sides to it. Reducing the amount of processed foods we eat is always a good idea and by doing that you will usually reduce the amount of fat, salt and sugar you eat, which is a good thing! The problem with the Paleo diet is that it also cuts out dairy (on the basis that cavemen didn’t drink milk) and this means that the diet is very low in calcium. For this reason it is really not suitable for children who do need a lot of calcium for growing bones. How did cavemen manage without dairy? They ate a lot more food than we do (up to 10,000 calories per day compared to the 2,000 most of us eat). By eating that amount of food they were able to pick up just enough calcium from green vegetables and seeds. To put it in perspective, you would need to eat 16 servings of broccoli a day to get all the calcium you need. This is easier to do if you eat 10,000 calories per day rather than 2,000.
The other problem with the paleo diet is that it is not entirely based in science. Many of the Paleo diets out there say you should not eat wheat, even though we know that cavemen did in fact eat wheat and other grains. These diets also don’t recommend that you eat blubber and the big lumps of fat that were also a large part of the caveman diet!
A final problem is that many Paleo diets encourage people to cut out beans and lentils and to get their protein from meat and fish instead. Many studies over the last few years are clear that eating too much animal protein is linked with more cancer and heart disease. Eating some vegetarian meals based on beans and lentils is a great way to get your protein without always going for meat.
Is this a diet we should follow? I think there is a lot we can learn from the Paleo diets. We could all do with eating less salt, sugar and processed foods and adding in more nuts and seeds as well as more vegetables. However, I think following a strict Paleo diet could lead to low levels of calcium and vitamin D and so it is not suitable for children or teens and adults would need to think about a calcium supplement.

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Ask Sarah

Q I’ve heard a lot about the Paleo diet and as I am very interested in reducing the amount of processed foods and grain based meals my family eats, we are considering following this diet. From what I read it seems to be a back-to-basics type of eating. Is a Paleo diet safe for children? My kids are aged seven and nine.

A The Paleo diet is one of the most fashionable diets around at the moment. It is also known as the ‘caveman diet’ and is based on cutting out processed foods, starchy foods like bread and potatoes and eating more meat, vegetables and fruit.
As fad diets go, it is not the worst but there are some good and bad sides to it. Reducing the amount of processed foods we eat is always a good idea and by doing that you will usually reduce the amount of fat, salt and sugar you eat, which is a good thing! The problem with the Paleo diet is that it also cuts out dairy (on the basis that cavemen didn’t drink milk) and this means that the diet is very low in calcium. For this reason it is really not suitable for children who do need a lot of calcium for growing bones. How did cavemen manage without dairy? They ate a lot more food than we do (up to 10,000 calories per day compared to the 2,000 most of us eat). By eating that amount of food they were able to pick up just enough calcium from green vegetables and seeds. To put it in perspective, you would need to eat 16 servings of broccoli a day to get all the calcium you need. This is easier to do if you eat 10,000 calories per day rather than 2,000.
The other problem with the paleo diet is that it is not entirely based in science. Many of the Paleo diets out there say you should not eat wheat, even though we know that cavemen did in fact eat wheat and other grains. These diets also don’t recommend that you eat blubber and the big lumps of fat that were also a large part of the caveman diet!
A final problem is that many Paleo diets encourage people to cut out beans and lentils and to get their protein from meat and fish instead. Many studies over the last few years are clear that eating too much animal protein is linked with more cancer and heart disease. Eating some vegetarian meals based on beans and lentils is a great way to get your protein without always going for meat.
Is this a diet we should follow? I think there is a lot we can learn from the Paleo diets. We could all do with eating less salt, sugar and processed foods and adding in more nuts and seeds as well as more vegetables. However, I think following a strict Paleo diet could lead to low levels of calcium and vitamin D and so it is not suitable for children or teens and adults would need to think about a calcium supplement.