Gastroenteritis (Gastro) is one of the most common illnesses of childhood. It is an infection of the bowel that causes diarrhoea (loose, watery stools) and sometimes vomiting and high fevers. Vomiting usually settles within 48 hours.
Diarrhoea usually only lasts for 3-4 days but may last for up to 10 days.
Most children, who are admitted to hospital for diarrhoea and vomiting, have become dehydrated due to loss of fluid. Your child has probably had a drip and rested his/her gut.
This fact sheet aims to guide you with both diet and prevention of further infections once your child is ready to go home.
What causes gastroenteritis?
Viruses, bacteria or parasites can cause gastroenteritis. Viruses are the main cause and are very easily spread. The most common virus is Rotavirus, which is most common during the winter months.
Bacterial gastro is usually caused by tainted food.
How can you prevent gastroenteritis from spreading to others?
• Washing your hands is the most important way to prevent gastro-enteritis.
• Wash your hands very well after taking your child to the toilet, changing nappies and before you handle food.
• A child with active diarrhoea will be far more likely to pass on gastro than in any other phase of the illness. This is why it is unwise to let your child mix with friends and other children until the diarrhoea (and vomiting) settles. This includes keeping your child away from school, kindy, and childcare etc. It is also important to alert the school of the illness.
• Avoid sharing food, drinks and utensils.
• Wash soiled clothing and linen separately.
What types of food and drinks can be taken?
Fluids and food should be recommenced as soon as possible unless otherwise stated by your doctor. Even if diarrhoea continues, a good fluid intake is important to prevent further dehydration. Depending on your child’s age, aim for a minimum of 1200mls to 1500mls per day.
Encourage these fluids:
• Gastrolyte (follow packet instructions)
• Unsweetened fruit juices
• Cordials and soft drinks
Dilute fruit juice and soft drink ¼ strength, unless your doctor has other recommendations
Breast feeds should be continued at all times.
How much fluid do I give?
Under 6 months
30ml-60ml every hour
5-10ml every 10-15minutes
60ml-120ml every hour
10-20ml every 10-15 minutes
Over 2 years
90ml-120ml every hour
15-20ml every 10-15 minutes
When reintroducing foods, start with those that are best tolerated to limit discomfort. These include low fibre foods and lean protein foods such as:
• White bread, plain cracker biscuits, steamed or boiled rice, boiled potato.
• Stewed apple, canned pears or peaches.
• Lean meat, chicken or fish
High fibre foods, high fat foods, raw vegetables and fruit are best avoided until the diarrhoea settles.
By the time your child is ready to go home he/she should be having milk or formula. Again, your doctor will advise the type of milk and dilution. It is generally not long before full strength milk can be given.
Once at home contact your doctor if:
• frequent vomiting or diarrhoea
• your child develops signs of dehydration again i.e. Listless, dry mouth and tongue, sunken eyes
• if you hav any other concerns.
Diarrhoea and vomiting (gastroenteritis). Staying Healthy in Childcare. Issue no. 97/11.
Gastroenteritis in children – Guidelines for Parents and Caregivers, Healthfacts, Women’s and Children’s Hospital, Adelaide 1996.
Gastroenteritis in children: oral therapy Children’s Nutrition Newsletter. The Royal Children’s Hospital. Sponsored by Nestle Australia Ltd. 1992.
Diarrhoea in Children. Adapted from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention’s Fact Sheet “What You Should Know About Diarrhoeal Diseases in the Child Care Setting” Healthtouch, Jan. 1998.
Author: Susan Leonard, Clinical Nurse Manager, Paediatric Unit. The Wesley Hospital.
We acknowledge Dietician Pam Horsley for her input into this fact sheet.
Reviewed: S Leonard, Clinical Nurse Manager, Paediatric Unit. The Wesley Hospital. 2006
Disclaimer: This information is intended as a guideline only and reflects the consensus of the authors, at the time of publication. The sources used are believed to be reliable and in no way replace consultation with a Health Professional.