Children & Travellers’ Diarrhoea

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Extra care should be taken with children and infants who exhibit the symptoms of travellers’ diarrhoea. It is important that you ensure they remain well hydrated for as long as the symptoms persist, which can be longer for children than adults (five to seven days). The consequences of dehydration (which can result from bouts of diarrhoea) for a child or infant’s health can be severe, especially as the medicines used to treat diarrhoea and its symptoms are often unsuitable for children.

While it is especially important that children should remain hydrated while suffering from diarrhoea, you should not give them either fizzy drinks or fruit juice. These will often make the symptoms of diarrhoea worse.

If your child is at an age when they are breastfeeding or bottle-feeding you should continue doing so, as this will reduce the risk that they become dehydrated.

Oral rehydration solutions (such as Dioralyte which is included in the Travellers’ Diarrhoea Pack) can be given to children, usually after each time they visit the toilet with their symptoms.

Ensure that your child’s diarrhoeal symptoms have stopped before giving them solid food, return them to their normal diet and if they refuse food, ensure that they keep hydrating until their appetite returns.

Acute diarrhoea in children

Most commonly, acute diarrhoea in children is caused by viral infections. If the acute diarrhoea does not resolve itself (i.e. it is not a self-limiting form of diarrhoea) in two weeks then it may be another, non infections illness which is causing the diarrhoea.

Causes of acute diarrhoea can be: viral infection, bacterial infection, protozoal infection (infection caused by a single-celled organism), systemic infection (an infection distributed throughout the body), side effects from antibiotics, food allergies or intolerance (e.g. lactose intolerance), existing medical conditions, malabsorption (the intestine failing to absorb nutrients as it should, as with cystic fibrosis or celiac disease), inflammation of the digestive track (for example if the child suffers from ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease), constipation after effects and toddler diarrhoea.

If your child becomes seriously unwell due to dehydration, you should seek medical care. In these cases, normal procedure will be as follows:

  • If your child has lost 3-5% of their total body weight due to dehydration, they will be given oral rehydration fluids (glucose, salts and water combinations usually) to restore lost liquids and stimulate their continued absorption in the gut.
  • Should your child be more severely dehydrated (having lost 5-15% of their total body weight due to dehydration), doctors may wish to place an intravenous line into their vein. This intravenous line is more commonly known as an ‘IV’ or colloquially as a ‘drip’, and fluid levels in your child’s body will be restored via their bloodstream. This might involve your child having to be admitted to hospital for their IV fluid replacement treatment, as well as observation and testing (to determine the cause of the dehydration).  

Dehydration in children and especially infants can be fatal if the symptoms are not recognised soon enough and treatment given to replace lost fluids. However, fluid replenishment either by oral rehydration or an intravenous line is frequently all that is necessary to ensure that your child will recover fully.

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