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Gastroenteritis in Children



, or stomach flu, is an infection of the stomach and intestines. Gastroenteritis is caused by bacteria, parasites, or viruses. Rotavirus is one of the most common cause of gastroenteritis in children.

Common symptoms include the following:

  • Diarrhea or gas
  • Nausea, vomiting, or poor appetite
  • Abdominal cramps, pain, or gurgling
  • Fever
  • Tiredness, weakness, or fussiness
  • Headaches or muscle aches with any of the above symptoms

Call 911 for any of the following:

  • Your child has trouble breathing or a very fast pulse.
  • Your child has a seizure.
  • Your child is very sleepy, or you cannot wake him.

Seek care immediately if:

  • You see blood in your child's diarrhea.
  • Your child's legs or arms feel cold or look blue.
  • Your child has severe abdominal pain.
  • Your child has any of the following signs of dehydration:
    • Dry or stick mouth
    • Few or no tears
    • Eyes that look sunken
    • Soft spot on the top of your child's head looks sunken
    • No urine or wet diapers for 6 hours in an infant
    • No urine for 12 hours in an older child
    • Cool, dry skin
    • Tiredness, dizziness, or irritability

Contact your child's healthcare provider if:

  • Your child has a fever of 102°F (38.9°C) or higher.
  • Your child will not drink.
  • Your child continues to vomit or have diarrhea, even after treatment.
  • You see worms in your child's diarrhea.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.


  • Medicines may be given to stop vomiting, decrease abdominal cramps, or treat an infection.
  • Do not give aspirin to children under 18 years of age. Your child could develop Reye syndrome if he takes aspirin. Reye syndrome can cause life-threatening brain and liver damage. Check your child's medicine labels for aspirin, salicylates, or oil of wintergreen.
  • Give your child's medicine as directed. Contact your child's healthcare provider if you think the medicine is not working as expected. Tell him or her if your child is allergic to any medicine. Keep a current list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs your child takes. Include the amounts, and when, how, and why they are taken. Bring the list or the medicines in their containers to follow-up visits. Carry your child's medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

Manage your child's symptoms:

  • Continue to feed your baby formula or breast milk. Be sure to refrigerate any breast milk or formula that you do not use right away. Formula or milk that is left at room temperature may make your child more sick. Your baby's healthcare provider may suggest that you give him an oral rehydration solution (ORS). An ORS contains water, salts, and sugar that are needed to replace lost body fluids. Ask what kind of ORS to use, how much to give your baby, and where to get it.
  • Give your child liquids as directed. Ask how much liquid to give your child each day and which liquids are best for him. Your child may need to drink more liquids than usual to prevent dehydration. Have him suck on popsicles, ice, or take small sips of liquids often if he has trouble keeping liquids down. Your child may need an ORS. Ask what kind of ORS to use, how much to give your child, and where to get it.
  • Feed your child bland foods. Offer your child bland foods, such as bananas, apple sauce, soup, rice, bread, or potatoes. Do not give him dairy products or sugary drinks until he feels better.

Prevent the spread of gastroenteritis:

Gastroenteritis can spread easily. If your child is sick, keep him home from school or daycare. Keep your child, yourself, and your surroundings clean to help prevent the spread of gastroenteritis:

  • Wash your and your child's hands often. Use soap and water. Remind your child to wash his hands after he uses the bathroom, sneezes, or eats.
  • Clean surfaces and do laundry often. Wash your child's clothes and towels separately from the rest of the laundry. Clean surfaces in your home with antibacterial cleaner or bleach.
  • Clean food thoroughly and cook safely. Wash raw vegetables before you cook. Cook meat, fish, and eggs fully. Do not use the same dishes for raw meat as you do for other foods. Refrigerate any leftover food immediately.
  • Be aware when you camp or travel. Give your child only clean water. Do not let your child drink from rivers or lakes unless you purify or boil the water first. When you travel, give him bottled water and do not add ice. Do not let him eat fruit that has not been peeled. Avoid raw fish or meat that is not fully cooked.
  • Ask about immunizations. You can have your child immunized for rotavirus. This vaccine is given in drops that your child swallows. Ask your healthcare provider for more information.

Follow up with your child's healthcare provider as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your child's visits.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Further information

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