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The Stomach Flu in Children: Gastroenteritis

Gastroenteritis, commonly referred to as “gastro” or “stomach flu” is a viral infection that may cause fever, stomach ache, vomiting and/or diarrhea. It occurs more commonly during fall and winter months.

What can I expect from my child when they have the stomach flu?

• Gastro infections can last 7 – 10 days!

• Vomiting is usually worse at the beginning of the illness and may last several days while diarrhea may last for 5 -10 days.

• Children usually are not interested in food and may complain of stomach ache

• Sometimes kids run a  fever as well.

What can I do for my child with gastroenteritis?

• The most important thing is keeping your child well hydrated.

• Try small frequent sips of clear fluids (ie: dilute apple juice). Pedialyte TM is another option to give your child when they are dehydrated, however studies have found apple juice diluted with water works just as well (and is less expensive)!

• Watching to see that your child is peeing normally (3-5 times a day) can be a good way to check for signs of dehydration.

Tylenol TM and Advil TM are reasonable to try for fever or pain.

Are there treatments or antibiotics for gastroenteritis?

• No, this is a viral infection and treatment is supportive (keeping your child hydrated throughout the illness).

When should I worry about my child when they have the stomach flu?

• If your child is refusing to take fluids and is not peeing frequently you should see your doctor.

• If your child has blood in their diarrhea you should see your doctor.

• If your child is having stomach pain you can’t control at home you should see your doctor.

• If vomiting is the only symptom (no diarrhea) and is lasting longer than 5 days or is dark green in colour, you should see your doctor.

This post co-authored by Dr. Meghan Gilley, a pediatric emergency physician at BC Children’s Hospital (BCCH) and Stephanie Liu, MD, MSc, BHSc.


National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Diarrhoea and vomiting in children: Diarrhoea and vomiting caused by gastroenteritis: diagnosis, assessment and management in children younger than 5 years.

S. Freedman; A. Willan; K. Boutis; S. Schuh. Effect of Dilute Apple Juice and Preferred Fluids vs Electrolyte Maintenance Solution on Treatment Failure Among Children With Mild Gastroenteritis – A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Vol 316 Number 18.

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