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Childhood Viruses of Winter: Stomach Virus

Board Certified Pediatric Emergency Physician Dr. Ronnie Waldrop and Erin Rovelli, RN serve patients at the Children’s Emergency Room at Inova Loudoun Hospital – Loudoun County’s only emergency facility solely dedicated to caring for children and adolescents.

Children and viral infections often go hand-in-hand, especially during the winter season. Most of the time, kids with common viral infections get better with basic R&R from a parent or caregiver. But it helps to know what to expect if complications arise.

This month, we’re taking a closer look at 5 common winter viruses in children. Here’s your guide to identifying and treating stomach viruses.

What is Stomach Virus?

Many viruses can cause vomiting and diarrhea. Stomach viruses tend to be very contagious and can infect people of any age. On the bright side, most of these illnesses are short-lived and resolve without treatment from a doctor.

The most common symptoms of a stomach virus are vomiting, diarrhea, nausea and abdominal pain. Other symptoms may include fever, headache and body aches.

Many serious illnesses may mimic stomach viruses including pneumonia, appendicitis and urinary tract infections. If other symptoms are present – including cough, blood in the vomit or stool, severe persistent abdominal pain, back pain or pain with urination – visit your doctor for a full evaluation.

Diagnosing and Treating Stomach Viruses

Your doctor will diagnose a stomach virus through a physical examination and medical history. Sometimes, your doctor may order laboratory tests such as blood, urine or stool specimen samples to help in diagnosis.

When your child is sick with a stomach virus, it’s a good idea to manage his or her food and liquid intake. Offer your child clear, dairy-free fluids until he or she is feeling well enough to tolerate other mild foods. If your child is too sick to eat or drink anything, your doctor might prescribe anti-nausea or anti-vomiting medications to help keep food and liquid down. Antibiotics are not helpful for treating stomach viruses.

If symptoms persist more than a few days, it can lead to dehydration, which can be dangerous in young children, older adults and people with other illnesses. Symptoms of dehydration usually include:

  • Dry mouth
  • No tears when crying
  • Decreased activity level
  • Decreased urine output

Contact your doctor if you notice these signs.

When Can My Child Return to School?

Symptoms of stomach virus usually resolve after a few days. Your child can return to school once vomiting and diarrhea have subsided. If your child has had fever with their stomach virus, they should not return to school until they are fever-free for at least 24 hours.

Use our Inova physician search to find a doctor near you.

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