Tummy Bugs - What You Need To Know

sickteddy.jpgWith all this worry about contaminated cucumbers, lots of parents are worried about kids with tummy upsets.

So I thought it would be a good idea to answer a few common questions...





Gastroenteritis is the posh word for a tummy bug.  It is caused by two types of bugs: viruses and bacteria.  The important difference is that viruses don't respond to antibiotics and are usually not serious.  However, some bacteria can be.

The commonest cause of gastroenteritis in small children in this country is viruses (e.g. rotavirus, adenovirus).  Bacterial causes include Campylobacter, Shigella and the famous E. coli.



The usual symptoms are vomiting, diarrhoea and tummy pain.  Bacterial gastroenteritis can also cause blood in the poo.



Usually not - the vast majority of gastroenteritis gets better by itself with simple supportive treatment: 

  • Rest - stay at home and try to avoid contact with lots of other people as it can be very catchy.
  • Paracetamol (Calpol) - to help the tummy pain.
  • Drink - this is the most important part of treatment.  Encourage your kid to drink small amounts frequently to stay hydrated (initially 1-2 teaspoons every 5 minutes then increase as tolerated).  Ideally, rehydration solution like Dioralyte is best.  It doesn't always taste nice but can be flavoured with a little juice.  Giving small amounts frequently to start off is better because the stomach is sensitive and won't tolerate a large amount in one go.
  • Stay off milk and solids - for the first 24 hours just give rehydration fluids then add in simple foods and milk slowly after that.  Jelly is a great starter food as it is mostly sugar and water (and tastes nice!).  Some kids get a temporary lactose intolerance after a tummy bug and their symptoms return/worsen when they drink milk.  This usually settles with time or you can try going back to rehydration fluids for another 24 hours.
  • Hygiene - it's catchy so make sure you wash your hands after handling dirty nappies! 


Usually the vomiting settles first, then the diarrhoea can take anything up to a week to settle.



If you are worried at any point then contact your doctor or NHS Direct for advice.  Otherwise see a doctor if your child has any of the following:

  • very lethargic/listless
  • pale
  • dry tongue/lips
  • not passing much urine
  • blood or anything that looks like blood in the poo
  • symptoms lasting longer than a week


Be extra cautious with babies because they become dehydrated quicker.



E. coli is a bug that is found in the intestine and usually doesn't cause a problem.  Sometimes it can get into other places and cause infections there (e.g. urine infections).

E. coli gastroenteritis is caused when contaminated food is eaten (hasn't been prepared or washed properly).  Most people will get a mild diarrhoea and vomiting illness, but it can cause serious illness in the extremely young/old and those with weak immune systems.

However, there are some strains of E. coli (such as O157 and the newer VTEC) that have the potential to cause serious illness in anyone.  You may remember, O157 caused havoc in kids that had visited Godstone farm not so long ago.  The worst complication is something called HUS (haemolytic uraemic syndrome) where it causes major problems with your blood and kidneys.  Fortunately, only a minority of people with the infection get this.

If you have a tummy bug with bloody diarrhoea then go see your doctor who will take a stool sample and send it off to see which bug is causing it and whether anything further needs to be done.  Only in certain cases are antibiotics required.



The majority of children (and adults) with tummy bugs get better by themselves with supportive treatment - rehydration is the most important part.  If there is blood in the poo or you are worried then contact your doctor.


Check here for more information: NHS Choices.