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Gastroenteritis (i.e. the Stomach Virus): A Pediatrician’s Perspective

By Shilpa Vernekar, MD

As a parent myself, I can relate to that feeling of worry when your child has vomiting and diarrhea and is not able to eat or drink. I always feel relieved if my child eats well, even when she is sick, because once her stomach is full, her mood seems better, she plays by herself and seeing her happy brings a smile to my face too.

Now, when a child has gastroenteritis (known in local language as a stomach bug or stomach virus), not only does the child not look forward to eating, but all that was eaten is coming out either through vomiting or diarrhea.

Stomach Virus So why does this happen?

Gastroenteritis or “the stomach bug” is mostly caused due to an infection by a virus, but it can also be bacterial at times.
How does one catch it?

It is a food borne illness, so contaminated or undercooked food is a source.

It also spreads mostly through contact with someone who is infected.

What are the symptoms?

As you already know, symptoms of a stomach virus include vomiting and diarrhea (loose, watery stools) which can sometimes be mixed with blood.

The child can also have stomach cramps, nausea, run fever and overall not feel well.

Persistent vomiting or diarrhea with inadequate intake can lead to dehydration.

How do I treat the stomach virus?

Diet like crackers, toast, soft cooked rice, soup helps.

Pedialyte to prevent dehydration

On most cases, gastroenteritis is a self-limiting illness and symptoms get better within 1-5 days.

Antibiotics are not recommended for stomach virus with few exceptions.

When should I be worried?

If symptoms are leading to dehydration which can happen rapidly in children less than 6 months old.

Fever more than 102

Blood in stools or vomit.

Symptoms for more than 7 days.

Worsening abdominal pain.

How can I prevent it?

As the stomach virus or stomach bug spreads through contact, proper hand washing helps prevent transfer of infection.

Cooking food thoroughly will also protect your child from risk of infection.

Some pets are known to be carriers of salmonella like turtles– (hand washing helps.)

Children less than 6 months should get their rotavirus vaccine, as the rotavirus is one of the most common causes of diarrhea in children.

 For more information on the stomach virus, or treating vomiting and diarrhea, please visit for recommended resources, or consult with your child’s pediatrician.

Dr. Shilpa Vernekar is a board certified pediatrician and a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. She works at Preferred Medical Group’s Phenix City Children’s location. Her special areas of interest include weight management and nutrition. Follow her on Twitter at:


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