KinderMender has been busy treating an influx of young patients presenting with vomiting, diarrhea, and watery stools.
This isn’t the work of influenza, however. The flu is an “all over” sort of nastiness, affecting a wide spectrum of systems. It causes congestion, sore throat, coughing, and more.
In lieu of those telltale respiratory issues, one suspect emerges: Rotavirus.
Globally, rotavirus is the most common cause for diarrheal illness in infants and children. In the United States, where vaccinations are common, it is easily singled out by its distinct seasonality (typically winter and early spring) and the way it spreads. Daycares and schools, unfortunately, are common breeding grounds.
Rotavirus enters the environment through feces. The illness is often spread when children do not wash their hands properly after using the restroom, or when parents and guardians do not wash their hands after assisting their child, or when changing a diaper. The virus then proceeds to contaminate toys, food, water, and more, spreading via hand to mouth contact.
Making matters worse, rotavirus can survive on surfaces for days if not disinfected promptly.
Rotavirus symptoms typically show up within two days of exposure, and include:
- Abdominal pain
But that’s not all…
You Can Smell It a Mile Away
Rotavirus symptoms are incredibly gastrointestinal-specific, and are not preceded by respiratory distress or URI symptoms. Often, children with rotavirus simply start throwing up.
In other cases, however – particularly in infants – an initial chain of unsettled, cranky, and fussy nights signify that rotavirus is at play.
This sleeplessness is caused by sporadic, yet intense, gas pains. Intermittent fussiness and piercing screams punctuate the night. And because diarrhea does not come until later, bewildered parents wonder if constipation or an ear infection could be the underlying cause. (For children with a history of constipation, incidentally, these gas pains can be even more pronounced.)
The final clue, though, is a malodorous gas which is almost impossible to confuse with anything else. This odor, unique to rotavirus, is insanely foul and – once you have experienced it – unmistakable. It’s also doubly offensive as it can lead to a number of false alarms as mom or dad change the baby’s diaper – and nothing is there.
The loose stools and diarrhea come later – and are often explosive.
Obviously, one of the biggest concerns in infants and children is dehydration. Parents and guardians are advised to keep an eye out for a loss of appetite, and signs of dehydration, which include:
- Sunken eyes and/or soft spot on head (infants)
- Dry mouth
- Absence of tears
- Infrequent urination (less than six wet diapers a day in infants)
Plenty of fluids and oral rehydration solutions like Pedialyte are the best tactics to rehydrate. Intravenous fluids are sometimes required in extreme cases.
Unfortunately, there is no medicinal remedy for rotavirus. Antibiotics have no effect, because the illness is not bacterial in nature.
Prevention, then, is the key. Teaching proper hygiene and handwashing is critical to prevent the spread of this illness.
Vaccination is the most effective form of defense. Approximately 9 out of 10 children who are vaccinated will be protected against severe rotavirus symptoms, and 7 out of 10 will be protected against the virus, in general.
If your child is experiencing signs of rotavirus, call KinderMender and speak to one of our pediatric specialists. While rotavirus is typically self-limiting, we can provide guidance to help you and your child pull through.