Doctors and providers who treat this condition


Viral Diarrhea (Child)

Diarrhea caused by a virus is called viral gastroenteritis. Many people call it the “stomach flu,” but it has nothing to do with influenza. This virus affects the stomach and intestinal tract. It usually lasts 2 to 7 days. Diarrhea means passing loose watery stools 3 or more times a day.

Your child may also have these symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain and cramping

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Loss of bowel control

  • Fever and chills

  • Bloody stools

The main danger from this illness is dehydration. This is the loss of too much water and minerals from the body. When this occurs, body fluids must be replaced. This can be done with oral rehydration solution. Oral rehydration solution is available at drugstores and most grocery stores.

Antibiotics are not effective for this illness.

Home care

Follow all instructions given by your child’s health care provider.

If giving medicines to your child:

  • Don’t give over-the-counter diarrhea medicines unless your child’s health care provider tells you to.

  • You can use acetaminophen or ibuprofen to control pain and fever. Or, you can use other medicine as prescribed.

  • Don’t give aspirin to anyone under 18 years of age who has a fever. This may cause liver damage and a life-threatening condition called Reye syndrome.

To prevent the spread of illness:

  • Remember that washing with soap and water is the best way to prevent the spread of infection. Wash your hands before and after caring for your sick child.

  • Clean the toilet after each use.

  • Keep your child out of day care until he or she is cleared by the health care provider.

  • Wash your hands before and after preparing food. Keep in mind that people with diarrhea or vomiting should not prepare food for others.

  • Wash your hands after using cutting boards, counter-tops, and knives that have been in contact with raw foods.

  • Keep uncooked meats away from cooked and ready-to-eat foods.

Giving liquids and food

The main goal while treating vomiting or diarrhea is to prevent dehydration. This is done by giving small amounts of liquids often.

  • Keep in mind that liquids are more important than food right now. Give small amounts of liquids at a time, especially if your child is having stomach cramps or vomiting.

  • For diarrhea: If you are giving milk to your child and the diarrhea is not going away, stop the milk. In some cases, milk can make diarrhea worse. If that happens, use oral rehydration solution instead. Don’t give apple juice, soda, or other sweetened drinks. Drinks with sugar can make diarrhea worse.

  • For vomiting: Begin with oral rehydration solution at room temperature. Give 1 teaspoon (5 ml) every 1 to 2 minutes. Even if your child vomits, continue to give oral rehydration solution. Much of the liquid will be absorbed, despite the vomiting. After 2 hours with no vomiting, begin with small amounts of milk or formula and other fluids. Increase the amount as tolerated. Do not give your child plain water, milk, formula, or other liquids until vomiting stops. As vomiting decreases, try giving larger amounts of oral rehydration solution. Space this out with more time in between. Continue this until your child is making urine and is no longer thirsty (has no interest in drinking). After 4 hours with no vomiting, restart solid foods. After 24 hours with no vomiting, resume a normal diet.

  • You can resume your child's normal diet over time as your child feels better. Don’t force your child to eat, especially if he or she is having stomach pain or cramping. Don’t feed your child large amounts at a time, even if your child is hungry. This can make your child feel worse. You can give your child more food over time if he or she can tolerate it. Foods you can give include cereal, mashed potatoes, applesauce, mashed bananas, crackers, dry toast, rice, oatmeal, bread, noodles, pretzels, soups with rice or noodles, and cooked vegetables.

  • If the symptoms come back, go back to a simple diet or clear liquids.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your child’s health care provider, or as advised. If a stool sample was taken or cultures were done, call the health care provider for the results as instructed.

Call 911

Call 911 if your child has any of these symptoms:

  • Trouble breathing

  • Confusion

  • Extreme drowsiness or trouble walking

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Stiff neck

  • Seizure

When to seek medical advice

Call your child’s health care provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Abdominal pain that gets worse

  • Constant lower right abdominal pain

  • Repeated vomiting after the first 2 hours on liquids

  • Occasional vomiting for more than 24 hours

  • Continued severe diarrhea for more than 24 hours

  • Blood in vomit or stool

  • Reduced oral intake

  • Dark urine or no urine for 8 hours, no tears when crying, sunken eyes, or dry mouth

  • Fussiness or crying that cannot be soothed

  • Unusual drowsiness

  • New rash

  • More than 8 diarrhea stools within 8 hours

  • Diarrhea lasts more than 1 week on antibiotics

  • Fever of 101.4°F (38.5°C) or higher that doesn’t get lower with medicine

  • A child 2 years or older has a fever for more than 3 days

  • A child of any age has repeated fevers above 104°F (40°C)  


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