Stomach flu (rotavirus disease) in babies and toddlers tips and treatments for stomach bugs and viruses in children what to expect electricity diagram flow

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It can be stressful when your baby or toddler comes down with a stomach bug and may leave you feeling pretty helpless. This guide to symptoms, causes, treatments and prevention of rotavirus disease, one of the most common viruses causing stomach flu in children, has the info you need to get your little one (and the rest of the family) through it. What is rotavirus disease?

Rotavirus disease is a contagious viral infection, a leading cause of stomach flu (which isn’t actually related to the influenza virus) in infants and toddlers, and the most common cause of severe diarrhea in little kids. Though rotavirus disease — which tends to rear its infectious head during the winter and spring months, though you can get it at any time of the year — can infect adults, its symptoms in babies and toddlers tend to be more serious because of their developing immune systems. The good news is that the rotavirus vaccine, added in 2006 to the recommended schedule of vaccines for babies, protects kids against the virus. What causes rotavirus disease in children?

Rotavirus disease spreads through the stool of infected people, which is why changing tables and bathrooms are prime areas where the virus can lurk. When people don’t wash their hands well after changing an infected baby’s diaper or infected toddlers don’t wash their hands well after using the potty, they can easily spread rotavirus disease to others.

Babies and toddlers most often come down with the virus, typically after touching something that’s been contaminated and then putting their hands in their mouths or putting unwashed hands with traces of feces in their mouths, but it can also spread through contaminated water, food or sometimes even through droplets in the air from coughs and sneezes. Though a child’s first case of rotavirus disease may be pretty severe, if he gets infected again, the symptoms are usually much milder. What are the symptoms of rotavirus disease in children?

• Offer your child plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration, but be careful how much and when. For babies who haven’t yet started solids, nurse or give formula. For older babies and toddlers, offer water and liquids that rehydrating like Pedialyte. Pediatricians typically recommend waiting an hour after a bout of vomiting and then offering about a teaspoon of breast milk, formula or water every 10 minutes for the next hour to see if your child can keep it down. If that works, gradually offer more over the course of the next few hours. But overdoing it can lead to more vomiting, which is why you have to be careful.

• Serve bland foods (bananas, plain pasta, crackers or plain toast) that won’t irritate your child’s digestive system any more than it already is — and avoid giving apple juice, dairy products and sugary foods, which can make your little one’s diarrhea worse.

It’s a good idea to call your pediatrician at the first onset of stomach flu symptoms. It’s especially important to call right away if your child has bloody diarrhea, excessive vomiting or a high fever (100.4° F or higher if your baby is less than 3 months old or 101.5° F and up if your baby is between 3 months and 3 years old). Also, contact your pediatrician right away or go to the emergency room if you notice any of these signs of severe dehydration — which may need to be treated with intravenous (IV) fluids in the hospital:

• Ask your pediatrician about the rotavirus vaccine, which is given as drops at either 2, 4 and 6 months or at 2 and 4 months, depending on the brand. Your child must get the first dose of rotavirus vaccine before 15 weeks of age, and the last by 8 months. Even though your baby is young and already getting a lot of shots, don’t put off getting it or skip it altogether. The vaccine doesn’t guarantee your child won’t get the illness, but it reduces the chances and it will make any rotavirus he does get less severe. Most children (about 9 out of 10) who get the vaccine will be protected from severe rotavirus disease. About 7 out of 10 children will be protected from rotavirus disease of any severity.