Diarrhea: Causes and treatment

What is rotavirus?

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Robert Steele

Robert W. Steele, MD, is a board certified pediatrician at St. John's Regional Health Center in Springfield, MO. He graduated from medical... Read more

Infectious diarrheal disease or acute gastroenteritis is one of the most common illnesses in children. This can be quite a significant problem for children in daycare. There are many causes of diarrhea most of which have no specific treatment. Rotavirus which is one of the most common causes of acute gastroenteritis falls into this category.

Rotavirus is a virus which infects the lining of the stomach and intestines destroying the cells which absorb the nutrients that we take in. The incubation period is two to four days and it is transmitted by picking it up from someone else (handshaking, drinking from an infected persons glass, playing with toys that are contaminated, etc). This virus is particularly hearty and can stay alive on an outside surface for several days.

Symptoms your child may experience include fever, rash, vomiting for the first 24-48 hours, and non-bloody diarrhea that may last up to 14 days.

Because there is no medication that can cure it, treating the symptoms is the mainstay of therapy. The main symptom to be concerned with is dehydration. The amount of fluid and salts lost in the diarrhea can be significant, thus both of these things must be replaced. To do this, I suggest doing three things:

  1. Remember treatment is not geared to make the diarrhea stop. Therefore, do not become distressed that the diarrhea has not gone away after a few days. It may last up to two weeks.
  2. Replace fluids with a substance that contains both water and salts. The best thing is to continue a regular diet, however, if vomiting is an issue,a simple salt containing solution should be started. These include pedialyte, ricelyte, etc. Substances like gatorade have salts, but they have a lot of sugar as well which can make the diarrhea worse. However, as a parent who has tried to get my children to take this salty fluid, I cantell you some children will absolutely refuse to take it. Therefore, you may have to compromise and use any liquid they will take.
  3. And finally, and this is the most important point. Getting your child back onto solid foods (or formula) again is the best way to treat the diarrhea. Initially, the vomiting will hold you back from advancing to the regular diet. But once this has subsided, you will be able to move on to foods again. This does two things. It provides the salts the body is lacking, but it also nourishes the cells that have been damaged by the virus. Study after study shows that feeding a regular diet as a soon as possible decreases the length of time the diarrhea lasts.

If a person in your family has unfortunately acquired this virus, the best thing you can do to keep other members from getting it is WASH YOUR HANDS.

Call your doctor if:

  1. The diarrhea has blood in it
  2. Signs of dehydration (no tears when she cries, urination is decreased,the mouth looks like it has little saliva in it)
  3. The diarrhea is lasting past 14 days
  4. There is severe abdominal pain

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