The Dreaded Winter Stomach Bug Is Here. Now What?

by Colleen Dilthey Thomas
Originally Published: 
stomach bug kids help

Ah, the stomach bug, is there anything worse? I think that I can speak for everyone here and state that no one likes this one. It is uncomfortable, it is draining and it is disgusting. And it is even worse if you have kids. Not only do they have a hard time getting to the right place at the right time, it can wreak havoc on their little bodies really quickly. As parents, we need to be prepared. What do we do? I reached out to an expert.

Dr. Heidi Sallee, associate professor in the department of pediatrics at St. Louis University School of Medicine and Medical Director of Danis Pediatric Center at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital has some tips. First, I will admit, I was calling it the stomach flu, not a bug. That is wrong, as Sallee notes that the medical term is viral gastroenteritis, which is an inflammation of the stomach and intestines. Viral gastroenteritis causes the dreaded vomiting and diarrhea; it is not a stomach flu as it’s not caused by the influenza virus.

Gastroenteritis is not only common, but super contagious. It is typically short lived, but it can be pretty miserable. For kids, the bug may last a day or two, but the diarrhea and loose stools can hang on for a few extra days. Dr. Sallee said that gastroenteritis is more common in kids because they share lots of germs and their immunes systems are continuing to develop.

In childhood, it’s inevitable that our kids are going to come down with a stomach bug. So to be prepared, many of us keep things on hand just in case. For me, the essentials in my stomach bug survival kit have always been things like saltines, sports drinks, chicken broth, Jell-O. You know, the same stuff that my mom was stocked up with in the 1980s.

There’s a reason those are tried and true: diarrhea and vomiting causes a loss of fluid, which can lead to dehydration. In order to keep your children hydrated when they are vomiting, Sallee suggests small amounts of liquid more frequently. This can be breast milk and formula for infants and older children can have a variety of liquids. She also said that keeping up with nutrition will promote healing, so small amounts of foods are a good idea too. You shouldn’t push juices like prune, apple, or pear as they can cause more loose stools. If your child doesn’t seem to be getting better, contact your doctor.

“You should always seek help from your physician if you are worried that what your child is experiencing is out of the ordinary. You should seek care for things like blood in the stool or vomit, early signs of dehydration (such as not urinating as often, dry mouth, not drooling). If the vomiting is lasting more than 2-3 days, or the diarrhea is lasting more than 1-2 weeks would be another reason to see your doctor,” Sallee said.

Sallee noted that now that children are back to mostly in-person learning, these common viruses are spreading again, more so than they were last year. She said this is a more “normal” winter with a variety of illnesses. But, this can vary from place to place due to specific masking protocols.

I asked Dr. Sallee if she has any other advice as we continue the battle to keep our children healthy. She said, “Vaccines are safe and effective to prevent many significant and dangerous infectious diseases. I would encourage all parents to fully vaccinate their children according to current recommendations. Your pediatrician, family practitioner or their nurse practitioners and physician assistants are excellent resources for information about keeping your children healthy and well. Talk to them and ask your questions.”

When a stomach bug comes into your home, monitor your child. It also wouldn’t hurt to hand them the remote, have lots of extra hugs on hand and their favorite stuffed animal or lovey, just in case.

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