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Sick all night? New e-book helps parents deal with kids’ stomach flu

Picture of a mom and sick child from the eBook.
Photo of Dr. Scott Sawyer DR. SCOTT SAWYER
Winnipeg Regional Health Authority
Published Friday, January 19, 2018

One illness that often catches parents of young children by surprise is gastroenteritis, also known as the stomach flu.

Gastroenteritis is an infection of the stomach and intestines that causes children to vomit and have diarrhea, which can lead to dehydration. This can be scary for parents, especially if their child is very young and they have never encountered this sickness before.

Fortunately, there is new ebook on the subject entitled Sick All Night: When to go to the Hospital with Childhood Vomiting and Diarrhea.

The ebook was produced by childhood health experts from a variety of organizations, including Translating Emergency Knowledge for Kids (TREKK) at Health Sciences Centre Winnipeg’s Children’s Hospital, and the University of Alberta. It can be found online at, or via this direct link:

As the name suggests, the ebook provides parents with information on how to recognize the symptoms of gastroenteritis and dehydration, and explains when parents should take their child to a doctor or hospital emergency department for treatment.

It does so by telling the story of young twins, Ali and Salima, who become sick in the middle of the night and begin vomiting. At first, their mother, Mona, tries caring for the kids at home. Eventually, she decides her kids are sick enough to warrant a visit to the local emergency department.

Once there, Mona learns her children probably have gastroenteritis. She also learns there are a large number of viruses and bacteria that can cause the condition, and that it can affect anyone, although young children and older adults are normally hit hardest.

In most cases, parents can manage a case of gastroenteritis at home, simply by keeping their child hydrated. But in more serious cases, a visit to the doctor or the local hospital emergency department will be in order. The ebook goes through the signs of dehydration, and has a check list for when parents should bring their child to the emergency department.

Either way, the most important thing is to ensure your child does not become dehydrated from gastroenteritis. Parents should keep tabs on how often their child is urinating – when did they last have a wet diaper, or go to the bathroom? Most kids who are hydrated will urinate at least every 12 hours. If they’re going less often than that, it’s a good idea to see a doctor or visit the local emergency department. Likewise, watch for a child who is lethargic, or has stopped making tears when crying. If there is any blood in the vomit or diarrhea, that’s another good reason to see a doctor, as it may mean there’s a different kind of infection at work. Parents can also call Health Links-Info Santé at 204-788-8200 or toll-free at 1-888-315-9257 for information.

At Children’s Hospital, we see about 250 cases of gastroenteritis a month, usually in children less than five years old. Treatment is focused on oral rehydration therapy. When kids vomit and have diarrhea, it means they’re losing more fluid than they should be. We replace that fluid as best we can, ideally through drinking Pedialyte, water or Gatorade, in small and frequent amounts. The goal is to keep more in than what comes out, until the body heals itself and eliminates the virus.

Most of the children we see in the emergency department at Children’s are best treated simply with oral rehydration. For those with more severe dehydration, we use intravenous fluids for a short period of time. We may use a one-time dose of an anti-emetic medication, for children who have very frequent vomiting. We don’t use any medication to stop the diarrhea, because it can lead to complications. Instead, our goal is to replace fluids, as that’s what will make the child feel better.

Of course the best treatment for gastroenteritis is prevention. Hand washing is key. Teach your child to wash their hands after going to the bathroom, and before eating. If your child is becoming sick, make sure they don’t share toys or utensils or cups with other children, to keep from passing the virus on.

Gastroenteritis is common in our world. If you’re a parent whose children haven’t had it yet, take the time to read the ebook. It will help ease your fears when a stomach bug affects your kids, and help you understand how treatment works.

Dr. Scott Sawyer is the Section Head of Pediatric Emergency Medicine at the Children's Hospital in Winnipeg. This column was originally published in the Winnipeg Free Press on Friday, January 19, 2018.

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