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What You Need to Know About Kids and Norovirus

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Getting the norovirus yourself is awful. Having your kid come down with it? Even worse. Each year, norovirus leads to about 21 million illnesses, 70,000 hospitalizations and 800 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The particularly nasty strain of stomach virus that’s spreading like wildfire this year, called GII.4 Sydney, can cause violent vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps, not to mention “it’s messy and stinky and not fun to clean up,” says Atlanta pediatrician Jennifer Shu, M.D. Here’s what to do if your child comes down with the highly contagious bug, which typically lasts two to three days: 

Push fluids 

“The key is not letting them get dehydrated,” says Gwenn O’Keeffe, M.D., CEO of Pediatrics Now and a member of Parenting’s advisory board. Check with your child’s doctor first, but in general small, frequent sips of liquids containing water, sugar, and electrolytes work best. For babies, stick with breast milk, formula and an infant/toddler rehydration solution like Pedialyte. For toddlers, offer Pedialyte or water. Older children can sip sports drinks such as Gatorade. Got a reluctant drinker? Try popsicles or Italian ice. Little ones can even suck on ice cubes made with an infant/child rehydration solution, suggests Dr. O’Keeffe.

Reintroduce foods carefully

Children may be ready to try solids once they can go progressively longer periods without vomiting liquids, says Dr. Shu. “Avoid creamy or greasy foods; try clear foods such as popsicles and Jell-O, then crackers, bread, pasta, rice, and pretzels,” she suggests. Dr. O’Keeffe recommends the traditional BRAT diet at this stage—bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. Another option? Cheerios. “They don’t put a huge load on the GI system and actually become very mushy in the mouth,” says Dr. O’Keeffe.

Call the doctor immediately if your child shows signs of dehydration 

Those include not keeping down fluids, having no tears when she cries, and infrequent urination. A sunken soft spot is another serious sign of dehydration in an infant (under age 1). Be especially vigilant about observing very young children. “Babies are unable to communicate when they are feeling sick or thirsty so it’s important for parents to look out for signs like being lethargic, having a dry mouth or excessive fussiness,” explains Dr. Shu. In older kids, also watch for a serious lack of energy. “The earlier intervention is started for dehydration, the better,” says Dr. O’Keeffe.

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