Protect against gastro
Each year thousands of young children will suffer from some variety of gastroenteritis (gastro) - a bowel infection that results in diarrhoea and may also cause vomiting and fever. Gastro is caused by a number of different viruses and bacteria with the most common culprit of "gastro", particularly in young children, being a virus known as 'rotavirus'.
By the age of five, almost all children will have had at least one episode of rotavirus gastro. Infants are at greatest risk of rotavirus gastro between the age of six months and two years.
Severe rotavirus gastroenteritis can have an emotional and financial impact on families - not only the anxiety of caring for a sick or severely dehydrated infant who may need to be hospitalised, but also the disruption to family life including time off work, disruption to childcare arrangements, and additional costs of nappies, foods, formulas and treatments (oral rehydration solutions, over-the-counter medications, prescribed medications).
Each year, up to 10,000 children are hospitalised due to rotavirus in Australia, and thousands more seek treatment from an emergency department or General Practitioner.
In addition to the impact on families and health services, rotavirus gastro can also be a real problem in childcare centres. If a child has rotavirus infection, it can very easily be passed on to other children. Even with our high standards in sanitation and hygiene, rotavirus is highly contagious and cannot always be easily avoided. This can result in children having to be excluded from childcare. Rotavirus gastro can also easily spread to childcare centre staff, family members of the infected child and other children who may also experience symptoms.
Immunisation is believed be the best approach for reducing the number of severe cases of this disease.
Symptoms of rotavirus gastro
Rotavirus gastro can start suddenly, often with fever and vomiting. This is followed by watery diarrhoea that may last up to five to eight days. As a result, young children may quickly dehydrate (lose body fluid).
Dehydration due to loss of fluids from vomiting and diarrhoea is the main concern in young children with gastro as it can cause them to become seriously ill.
Symptoms your child may display if they are dehydrated:
- Alert and restless
- Lethargic but irritable
- Sunken eyes
- Dry mouth and tongue
- Passing less urine
- Drowsy and limp
- Sweaty and cold hands and feet
If your child has diarrhoea and shows any signs of dehydration, see your doctor immediately.
How to stop the spread of rotavirus gastro:
- Keep children with gastro away from other children
- Do not send a child with gastro to school or childcare
- Nappies of babies with gastro should be sterilised and washed separately from other clothes
- Wash your hands thoroughly after changing nappies or after playing with children
- Teach children to wash their hands after going to the toilet and before eating. Rotavirus is not destroyed by hand-washing with plain soap but you can try and reduce the spread of infection by thorough hand-washing - ideally with a waterless hand-cleansing agent (talk to your pharmacist)
- Make sure food preparation areas are clean
Midnight trip to the emergency department
Michelle from Lake Macquarie, NSW and mother of three-year-old Dylan and five-month-old Zack suffered from rotavirus gastro over the Easter period in 2003.
Michelle claims it was: "The worst, most exhausting period of my life."
First of all Michelle was taken ill and she had to get a doctor to visit her at home to give her an injection to reduce her severe vomiting. With Michelle's husband away on business and with two children to care for, Michelle called on her mother for help but later her mother contracted the virus as well.
To top it off only days later, five-month-old Zack came down with the rotavirus infection and had to be rushed to the local hospital emergency department where he was given medication to keep his fluids down.
"I had never seen Zack so sick, he could not keep anything down and was extremely dehydrated," Michelle says.
Michelle's advice to parents: "Seek medical advice as early as possible, you can never be too careful."
Rotavirus leads to three days in quarantine in hospital
Mother of three Karen from Panania, NSW was 11 weeks pregnant when her youngest child two-year-old Harry contracted rotavirus gastro.
Harry had constant diarrhoea for two days when the GP advised Karen to take him to hospital where they admitted him and put him on a drip for three days.
Karen spent the next three days in isolation with Harry, swapping shifts with her husband who worked days but slept by Harry's side during the long and distressing nights.
"You don't wish it on anyone, it was such a scary time," Karen says.
"It felt like there was no light at the end of the tunnel. To see your child so sick and to be so helpless was an absolute nightmare."
Speak to your doctor about how you can help protect your child against rotavirus gastro.