Diarrhoea means increased fluidity and frequency of stooling more than five times a day or as considered unusual by the mother of an infant. Diarrhoea in children is most often caused by a virus, especially one called the rotavirus. Rotavirus is usually passed on through infected stool.
Most children get diarrhoea at least once before the age of 5 as infections spread easily among young children especially those staying together.
What are the symptoms?
In addition to the loose stool that comes more often than normal, the child might also vomit. This may be either as a result of the infection, or the intervention given to manage the diarrhoea.
They may also have belly pain, a high temperature, and lose their appetite. This loss of appetite prevents them from taking in as much fluid as they loose in their stools, and as a result could become dehydrated.
When you notice your child has a dry mouth, produces less tears when crying, makes less urine than usual or has sunken eyes, is irritable or listless, it means they may be dehydrated. This could be life-threatening, therefore the need to take them to the hospital’s emergency department right away.
There could be blood in stool in diarrhoea caused by certain bacteria and parasites.
What treatments work?
Most children recover completely on their own in a few days from diarrhoea, especially that caused by rotavirus. Antibiotics work only for bacterial infections (like typhoid).
The main intervention given in diarrhoea is to prevent dehydration. The mother is advised to continue feeding the child in addition to giving them an oral rehydration solution (ORS). The doctor will explain the best way to give this solution.
Sugary drinks like fruit juice are best avoided.
Sometimes children vomit excessively and are not able to retain the fluids they drink. Some may also not be able to drink at all, or are so badly dehydrated that they need fluids very quickly. In these situations, the doctor may need to give them rehydration solutions through a drip.
Using medicines such as loperamide (brand name Imodium) to stop diarrhoea in young children is not recommended.
There is an immunisation against rotavirus given at infancy. It protects your child against diarrhoea caused by rotavirus, but does not mean he or she will never get diarrhoea, as other germs can still cause it.
Make sure everyone in the family washes their hands properly after using the toilet, after changing a baby’s nappy, before preparing food, and before eating.
Dispose of nappies properly.
Keep your children away from anyone who has diarrhoea or vomiting.