What to Do When Your Child Gets Sick
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The Stomach Virus
Although it's often referred to as the "stomach flu," gastroenteritis - or inflammation of the stomach and intestines - is not caused by influenza; rather, it's an infection caused by a variety of viruses. "Stomach viruses typically start with vomiting which can often last for 12 hours. Diarrhea usually follows and can last up to one week; the smaller the child, the faster they can dehydrate," says Dr. Windels. "These viruses are very contagious and often affect an entire family," according to Scott Klein, M.D., F.A.A.P., Vice Chairman of Clinical Services at Maimonides Infants' and Children's Hospital of Brooklyn, who says that hand washing is the first line of defense against contracting and spreading stomach bugs. Some children may also have stomach cramps, a low-grade fever, and headaches. Rotavirus, which is characterized by extreme diarrhea and is responsible for more than 55,000 hospitalizations each year, is usually diagnosed in babies and young children.
When To Call the Doctor
As a result of vomiting and the limited amount of liquid intake, dehydration is the biggest concern when your child has the stomach virus. "If your child is not tolerating fluids after 24 hours, not urinating, and the lips are dry, those are some telltale signs that your child may be dehydrated and you should speak with your doctor," says Dr. Trachtenberg.
How to Treat It
Introducing food and liquid into the diet should be done slowly, even by the spoonful. "Stop all solids and all liquids and give your child Gatorade, weak tea, or an over-the-counter oral replacement electrolyte solution such as Pedialyte. If your child is very dehydrated, intravenous fluids and prescription antivomiting medicine is needed," says Dr. Beeber. To prevent rotavirus, the Center for Disease Control recommends parents vaccinate their children.
Much like the seasonal flu, the H1N1 flu's characteristics include fever, chills, aches, headaches, a runny or stuffy nose, coughing, wheezing, sore throat, chills, bluish skin color, irritability and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea. "Children have higher fevers, more muscle aches and more lethargy compared to the common cold," says Dr. Klein. The main difference seems to be in what age groups are most affected. "It appears to be that H1N1 targets older children and young adults whereas the seasonal flu strikes worse at the very young and aged," says Dr. Rauch.
When To Call The Doctor
"You should seek help if your child has any underlying illness, especially heart or lung problems, and starts to develop any combination of flu-like symptoms," according to Dr. Rauch. Children will most likely get better within a week and will not need to see the doctor, but if symptoms suddenly get worse or dehydration occurs, pick up the phone. "If a parent is worried about a child with influenza, call the doctor; in most cases reassurance can be given on the phone. The emergency department should be reserved for true emergencies," says Dr. Klein.
How to Treat It
"H1N1 is simply a different type of influenza virus and we treat it the same," according to Dr. Chesir, who advocates that all children under 18 and especially those under 2 receive the vaccination when it becomes available. With rest, lots of fluids, and acetaminophen for aches and fever, the flu should subside on its own. Antiviral medications like Tamiflu® are available, yet Dr. Chesir advises that Tamiflu® only be used for children with chronic medical problems like diabetes or congenital heart disease or for children under 2.
To find a flu clinic in your area, visit www.flucliniclocator.org.
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