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The Informed Parent

Acute Gastroenteritis

by Shanna R. Cox, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Published on Jan. 12, 2009

As most of our families know our practice is right in the middle of the “sick” season. There are many illnesses we are seeing in the office right now. But one of the more frustrating and exhausting for parents can be acute gastroenteritis, AGE for short, or more commonly described as the “stomach flu.” AGE describes a viral illness that produces vomiting and diarrhea often accompanied by fever. Children of any age can be affected by AGE, as can their parents! It is a notoriously contagious illness and tends to last longer in younger or dehabilitated children.

The biggest concern for any family member that is affected by AGE is the ability to stay well hydrated. Small frequent fluid volumes with pedialyte or a like fluid will help to stave off dehydration. Other fluids and bland foods should be introduced slowly with a goal of returning to a regular diet gradually, over approximately three days. The most important way to monitor a child’s hydration status is to assure they are still urinating; the younger the child’s age, the less time they can tolerate without urinating. The vomiting and diarrhea usually runs its course over several days without any medications. Anti-diarrheal or anti-nausea medications are not routinely recommended for children as their side effects are considered more dangerous than any brief benefit they might have.

Children usually develop symptoms approximately five days after exposure to an ill contact. In turn, a general rule is that the family is not cleared of the illness until all have been symptom free for approximately five days. Prevention is best accomplished with hand washing and by not sharing cups or plates as well as attempting to limit exposure to anyone known with these symptoms. Most families only go through one round of this type of illness in a season. But it is possible to have AGE multiple times since there are several viruses with different strains that may produce these symptoms.  

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