What is Gastroenteritis?

Gastroenteritis (stomach bug) is an infection in the gut (intestines). It is common in all age groups, and many children may have more than one episode a year.

It usually lasts a few days though can last ten days or longer.

The main risk from the illness is the child becoming dehydrated because of the vomiting and diarrhoea.

What causes Gastroenteritis?

Most cases are caused by viruses, usually rotavirus and adenoviruses which are spread from the hands of an infected person when they touch other people or surfaces.

Another cause of gastroenteritis is ‘food poisoning’ which occurs when a child eats food that has been contaminated with bacteria such as Campylobacter, Salmonella or E. coli.

Occasionally other types of germs or bugs can cause gastroenteritis, particularly after travel abroad, or contact with contaminated water.

What symptoms will I see in my  child?

  • Frequent, loose or watery poos (diarrhoea) at least three times a day with or without blood or mucus
  • Vomiting
  • Tummy pains
  • A high temperature (fever)
  • Headache or aching limbs

Diarrhoea and vomiting may result in lack of fluid in the body (dehydration) especially if under one year of age or in severe cases.

Symptoms of dehydration may include fewer wet nappies or not going to the toilet to pass urine, dry mouth and lips, fewer tears when crying, sunken eyes, weakness or lethargy, irritability and appear unwell.

In severe cases, they may have col hands or feet, pale or blotchy skin, fast breathing or become drowsy.

How to prevent dehydration

  • Keep feeding your child as normal, including breastfeeding and other milk feeds
  • Offer plenty of drinks; they may need little but often fluid intake
  • Your healthcare professional may recommend that you give your  child oral rehydration salts (ORS eg. dioralyte) which are fluids containing the perfect balance of water, salts, and sugar to help restore what your child’s body has lost through diarrhoea/vomiting. Your child may vomit a little when they start to drink the ORS. This can be bought at any chemist
  • Avoid fruit juice and fizzy drinks – these can make diarrhoea worse

Preventing the spread of gastroenteritis

  • Hand washing with soap in warm running water is the best way to stop other people getting gastroenteritis. Do this after going to the toilet, changing nappies and before touching food or eating
  • Regularly clean the toilets used with disinfectant and flush handle, toilet seat, sink taps, bathroom surfaces and door handles at least daily

Your child should not:

  • Share towels with anyone
  • Go to school or any other childcare facility until 48 hours after the last episode of diarrhoea or vomiting
  • Swim in swimming pools until two weeks after the diarrhoea has stopped

Does my child need to see a doctor?

Most children with gastroenteritis get better quickly without treatment and can safely be looked after at home. Severe cases can result in dehydration which can be dangerous.

Seek medical attention if:

  • Your child’s symptoms are taking longer to get better
  • If your child will not drink the rehydration salts and/or keeps being sick
  • Shows symptoms of dehydration
  • Your child is under six months of age
  • Your child has an underlying medical condition (eg. heart or kidney problems, diabetes)
  • Blood stain in their poo or vomit
  • Has severe tummy pain

How do I know my child is getting better?

  • Your child seems more happy and lively
  • Vomiting is less or stopped
  • Less diarrhoea and the stools are less watery (remember it can take up to two weeks before your child’s stools are normal)

Reintroduce your child’s usual solid food once they are rehydrated.

If you have any questions, contact

Paediatric Assessment Unit (PAU) (9am-9pm)
Telephone: 01935 384 788

Children’s Ward (9pm-9am)
Telephone: 01935 384 360

If you need this information in another format, eg. a different language, please ask a member of staff.

Ref: 10-17-113
Review: 06/21