Diarrhea is frequent loose or watery bowel movements. There are a variety of reasons diarrhea might develop, however the most common cause is a viral infection. Vomiting may also occur with this type of illness. Viral diarrhea is transmitted when a child touches feces/poop found on a surface or another person and then places their hands into the mouth. Viral diarrhea can last anywhere from 5-14 days, depending on the type of virus causing the infection.
What are some signs and symptoms associated with viral diarrhea?
Dehydration is the main risk associated with viral diarrhea. When dehydration occurs, there is the loss of water and important salts (electrolytes). This loss will make your child feel and appear weak. If a child is not able to drink fluids well or is having frequent or large watery stools, additional signs of dehydration include dry lips/mouth, poor urination, dizziness, and less tears when crying.
How is viral diarrhea treated?
Treatment for viral diarrhea is mainly supportive since the illness goes away on its own. If your child is still interested in eating their normal diet, continue to feed him/her as tolerated. This includes breastfeeding and formula feeding. In the case that a formula-fed infant is having excess gas, bloating, or worsening diarrhea, your doctor may consider a temporary switch in formula. If there is a loss of interest in eating or drinking or your child is starting to show signs of dehydration, an oral rehydration solution is recommended. This type of fluid is specially designed to replace fluids and electrolytes that are lost during the course of diarrhea. Pedialyte and Enfalyte are popular brands available for use and come in liquids, powder packets, and freezer pops. Juices and sports drinks have not been recommended since the extra sugars they contain may worsen diarrhea.
Small, frequent amounts are recommended for starting the rehydration process. As little as 5-10 ml (about 1-2 teaspoons) may be all that your child is able to take in the beginning. Once your child is consistently tolerating the smaller amounts you may gradually increase the volume given. Your pediatrician can help guide you on the duration and amount of oral rehydration fluid to best suit your child’s needs.
The use of probiotics may also be advised by your doctor. Probiotics are good for replacing the good bacteria communities that are usually found in the gut. These bacteria may sometimes be “flushed out” by the body as it attempts to rid itself of the diarrheal virus. Replenishing the normal bacteria with probiotics may help ease the severity and length of time your child has diarrhea. Your doctor can provide advice on how much and how often probiotics should be used if it is a recommended part of your child’s management.
Anti-diarrheal medications are generally not advised since they can worsen the course of an illness or result in certain complications. In the instance that your pediatrician feels that this is a reasonable option for use, then specific guidance will be offered. Please contact our office to schedule an appointment if you are worried about your child’s hydration status or if he or she:
Appears very sick
Has bloody stools
Is younger than 6 months old
Has significant abdominal pain
Is hardly urinating
How can viral diarrhea be prevented?
Proper hand washing is by far the most effective means of preventing viral diarrhea. Infants and children with diarrhea should not be sent to school or daycare facilities until symptoms have resolved. This will help prevent the spread of infection to others. Additionally, immunizing young infants with the rotavirus vaccine will lessen the chance that severe symptoms will develop, if exposed to this germ.