General Recommendations Regarding Diarrhea
What is it?
Diarrhea occurs commonly in young children. Occasionally the complications of diarrhea can be serious and life threatening. Diarrhea causes a loss of water and minerals (electrolytes, like potassium) and can cause dehydration. Children, and particularly infants can become dehydrated much more quickly than adults, so it is important that the fluid be replaced.
Diarrhea is considered the passage of bowel movements or stools that are more frequent, looser and more watery than usual. Stools may also appear a different color, such as green or yellow, have mucus, and in the case of a more severe illness have blood present. Diarrhea may be accompanied by complaints of stomachache, headache, fever or vomiting and is often referred to as gastroenteritis or “stomach flu.” It may last just a couple of days, although most episodes of non-acute diarrhea last from three to six days.
What causes diarrhea?
Diarrhea may result from a number of causes, including infection by a virus (such as enterovirus or rotavirus), bacteria (E. coli, Shigella, Salmonella, Campylobacter) or parasites (Giardia, amebas); some medications (such as antibiotics); food allergies; and food poisoning. Some children have very sensitive stomachs resulting in nervousness that can lead to diarrhea, and some foods such as cherries or grapes may lead to diarrhea in some children.
The most common cause of severe diarrhea is a result of contracting the rotavirus, an infection of the digestive tract. It affects four out of five children in the United States by age 5. The occurrence of rotavirus increases from November through April, and it is particularly common in child care settings.
How does it spread?
Infectious diarrhea spreads in several ways. It can spread from person to person when a child or adult comes into direct contact with virus or bacteria from the stool of an infected individual and then passes the virus to the mouth. This is called fecal-oral transmission. A person also can touch a surface that has been contaminated and then touch his or her mouth. In child care settings, the germs can be on a caregiver or child’s hand, toy, play surface, food and even in the water play table.
A recent study of child care centers showed that the most common form of fecal contamination was by the hands of children and staff. Children in diapers and caregivers who change their diapers have an increased risk of getting diarrhea. Remembering to clean and sanitize the changing area and following good hand washing guidelines are key to preventing the spread. Gloves do not guarantee protection.
Reprinted with the permission of the California Childcare Health Program.
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