Child Stomach Flu Symptoms and Treatments

Mother taking son's temperature
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The term "stomach flu" can be confusing, since it has nothing to do with the influenza virus or regular flu that can cause a cough, runny nose, fever, and body aches. It usually refers to a virus, often a norovirus or rotavirus, and includes symptoms such as diarrhea and vomiting.​

Since the stomach flu really has nothing to do with influenza, flu, or the flu shot, to prevent confusion, it is probably better to call it by its proper name -- viral gastroenteritis.

In addition to vomiting and diarrhea, children with the stomach flu may have other symptoms, including nausea, a low-grade fever, abdominal cramps, and a headache. These stomach flu symptoms can begin one to two days after being exposed to someone else that is sick with a stomach flu virus (the incubation period) and can last for one to 10 days.

Less common symptoms of the stomach flu can include chills and muscle aches.

Children who have excessive diarrhea or vomiting or who are not able to drink enough fluids can also develop symptoms of dehydration. Signs of mild dehydration to watch out for include a moist mouth and tongue, normal to slightly decreased urine output, less than 3 percent weight loss, normal heart rate, pulses, breathing, and warm extremities.

Stomach Flu Treatments

As with many other viral infections, there is no specific "cure" for the stomach flu. And stomach viruses won't be affected one way or the other by a flu shot since it's not a true strain of influenza.

Care is aimed more at preventing dehydration and includes routine treatments for vomiting and diarrhea, This includes giving fluids, of course, but also means avoiding things that might make their vomiting or diarrhea worse. Antidiarrheal medications are usually not recommended, and antibiotics are not usually an effective course of treatment, since most stomach ailments of this nature are caused by viruses.

While you first concentrate on getting them to drink a lot of fluids so that they don't become dehydrated, once they are keeping fluids down, you can quickly advance them back to their regular diet.

For a short time, some parents like to limit their kids to what's known as the BRAT diet: Bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. Since these starchy foods are constipating, they may help ease diarrhea. But the BRAT diet is very low in nutrients, and should not be used long-term.

In addition to restricting a child's diet, another common misconception when treating diarrhea is that Pedialyte or other electrolyte solutions will make diarrhea go away. Pedialyte isn't a cure for rotavirus and other causes of diarrhea though. Instead, they just help prevent your child from getting dehydrated.

The only time that Pedialyte is recommended is when a child has a lot of vomiting. Even then, very small amounts are recommended. The dosage should be between a teaspoon or tablespoon, every five or ten minutes until the child is keeping fluids down. You can then slowly advance how much he is drinking as he vomits less and eventually start him back on his regular diet as tolerated.