By: Rebecca Muthoni
Children get diarrhoea from time to time, with almost every child having at least one episode of diarrhoea in their childhood. Diarrhoea is described as the passage of lose or watery stool which may occur at least three times in 24 hours.
It often occurs alongside nausea, vomiting, cramps and fever.
Diarrhoea can cause a lot of discomfort in children and can lead to complications like dehydration, which can be serious if not managed promptly.
The most common cause of diarrhoea is viral infection such as rotavirus. However, diarrhoea can also be caused by bacterial infection, parasitic infections, side effects of medications such as antibiotics and other infections not associated with the gastrointestinal system.
Depending on the causing pathogen, diarrhoea can be accompanied by various symptoms. Viral infection being the most common cause of diarrhoea in children is characterised by watery stool, fever exceeding 380C, vomiting, and headache, loss of appetite, abdominal cramps, and muscle aches.
Bacterial infection is not distinct from viral infection. It is usually common in places with unsafe drinking water and poor sewage systems.
Symptoms of diarrhoea caused by bacterial infection include diarrhoea stained with blood spots or mucus and temperatures above 400C. Most bacterial infections improve with time and may not require antibiotics.
Viral, parasitic and bacterial infections are contagious. For this reason, parents and caretakers should help in curbing the spread of the infection.
A child is considered contagious if he has diarrhoea. Nevertheless, depending on the causing micro-organism, some children can spread diarrhoea despite having no symptoms, while others may continue spreading long after their symptoms have cleared.
Diarrhoea is basically spread through poor hygiene practices. When a child with diarrhoea uses the toilet and does not wash their hands properly, other children can be infected through hand to mouth contact, sharing utensils like spoons, cups, or water bottles especially in school.
Simple hygiene practices can help prevent diarrhoea. These include:
• Encouraging children to wash their hands after visiting the toilet and before handling any food
• Proper disposal of diapers, feces and washing hands after changing the baby’s diapers
• Cleaning of bathroom taps, door handles, toilet seats and other accessories can help prevent infection.
• Washing fruits and vegetables thoroughly before consumption
• De-worming kids regularly
• Proper cooking of food to avoid incidence of food poisoning
If your child has diarrhoea, try the following to help with recovery;
• Ensure the child eats regular diet with all the necessary nutrients. Give small, light meals and avoid foods that are spicy or fatty. A child who is breastfeeding should continue breastfeeding unless a doctor advices otherwise.
• Giving the child lots of fluids such as water and soups to replace the water losses through diarrhoea. Rehydrating a child will help restore their appetite so that the child resumes his normal diet.
• If a child shows signs of dehydration such as dry mouth, decreased urination, sunken eyes, lack of tears when crying, or increased thirst, it is necessary to give oral dehydration therapy. This includes giving the child oral dehydration salts and other dehydrating salts as advised by a doctor.
• A child should also have enough rest to allow the body to heal. Diarrhoea normally clears on its own within a few days of self-care. However, take a child to a doctor if diarrhoea does not stop after three days, you notice signs of dehydration, high fever, the child is weak, or appears to be very sick.