A stomach bug causes vomiting and diarrhoea. It's medically known as gastroenteritis, and referred to as food poisoning, if there is a particular meal in the frame. The diarrhoea mostly resolves within 5 to 7 days and the vomiting in 2 to 3 days. Symptoms associated with a stomach bug include diarrhoea, stomach pain and cramps, nausea, vomiting, and they may have a mild fever or a headache. Generally children and babies feel fairly well with a stomach bug - they will still want to play and be their usual self, and they may keep their appetite, so trust your instincts if they appear unwell.
Stomach bugs are most often viral, but they can also be caused by bacteria and parasites. Rotavirus is the most common gastric virus, with nearly every child in the UK coming across it by the age of 5, and they are given a vaccine in the normal childhood immunisation programme, to protect them. Adenovirus and norovirus can also cause diarrhoea and vomiting. Bacterial infection can cause fever and bloody diarrhoea, and they may be more unwell. Particular bugs include Campylobacter, E. Coli and Salmonella.
Symptoms usually last between 24 and 48 hours, but may last up to 10 days – hopefully with improvement during that time. They can still be contagious a few days after recovery so children should stay off school or nursery and avoid pregnant or immune-compromised people until 48 hours after their symptoms have resolved. Other parents will not thank you for returning too early.
The main treatment for a stomach bug is to keep the child hydrated at all times and encourage plenty of rest, to let their body’s immune system get to work. Babies should continue to feed as usual, older children are encouraged to have regular, small but frequent sips of water to prevent dehydration or you can give them oral rehydration sachets to replace any lost salts. Dairy products, sugary foods, spicy and flavourful food should be avoided. Sticking to soft, dry, basic foods like soup or dry toast is advised.
Vomiting lasting more than 2 days and diarrhoea lasting longer than 7 days should be discussed with your doctor. If your child is vomiting clear fluids for more than 8 hours, is unable to keep fluids down for any prolonged period, they are vomiting blood, has blood in the poo or shows any sign of dehydration, you should seek urgent medical attention. Signs of dehydration include fewer wet nappies, persistent diarrhoea or vomiting with no signs of improvement, persistent fevers, and lethargy, irritability or appearing drowsy and unable to rouse.