The monsoon is upon us and so are certain infections that compromise on health, especially of the little ones, as the heat-and-humidity duo hits highs.
The long-awaited rains may appear refreshing after the tormenting summer heat but it also brings along the risk of bacterial and viral infections among children that may make it an unpleasant monsoon for you, if you don’t take the required precautions.
When it rains heavily, water quality gets adversely affected. Storm water containing faecal matter full of bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and other microorganisms contaminates the water sources.
Waterborne protozoa, comprising Cryptosporidium species and Giardia are so ubiquitous that they have been detected even in the post-treatment drinking water supplies. When children get in contact with the contaminated water they are more likely to develop gut-related diseases, primarily gastroenteritis.
What is gastroenteritis?
Gastroenteritis refers to a common gut disorder among children causing the inflammation of the digestive tract, as a result of exposure to bacteria, viruses, or parasites through contaminated food, water, or direct contact. The problem may produce symptoms like diarrhoea, vomiting or both. In some cases, it may be accompanied by fever, abdominal cramps or poor appetite, leading to even dehydration.
In most cases, gastroenteritis is caused by viruses, followed by bacteria, and parasites that may enter the human body through agents like air, water, and food. Since it is a contagious disease, children may contract it from other children who either had it or were exposed to it.
Further, the viral spread of gastroenteritis is attributed to faecal-oral transmission which refers to the transfer of the virus from the diarrhoea stool (faeces) of an infected person into the digestive tract of another person through the mouth. It happens when children don’t practise proper hand hygiene and come in contact with children with diarrhoea and/or their caretakers. In addition, sneezing and spitting may also transmit viral gastroenteritis.
What are the symptoms of gastroenteritis in children?
Children with gastroenteritis may experience one or a combination of more of the following symptoms:
– Poor appetite
How can you prevent gastroenteritis in children?
Vaccines are available to prevent rotavirus infection associated with gastroenteritis in children. In addition to vaccines, the following practices may help minimise the risk of the disease during the rainy season:
* Breastfeeding is a great way to prevent gastroenteritis in infants. But of course, breastfeeding should maintain optimum hygiene conditions.
* Maintain proper hand hygiene while changing diapers.
* As the children grow old enough to understand instructions, teach them to wash their hands thoroughly and follow your advice to avoid contaminated water and improperly stored foods
* Make sure they don’t consume anything that doesn’t pass your vigilance, especially during monsoons.
* It’s better if they could follow the thumb rule of avoiding outside food and water as much as possible.
* You can also minimise the risk of monsoon-season disease in your children by not allowing them to participate in recreational sports like swimming in public water.
* Dehydration can make things worse for children at the risk of gastroenteritis. You can avoid that by encouraging them to consume fluids and rehydration drinks such as tender coconut water, lime water with salt and sugar and thin buttermilk at regular intervals.
* Since exposure to birds, reptiles, or amphibians may increase the risk of gut-related ailments as they may carry Salmonella bacteria, you should try and ensure that they stay away from the risk.
What should you do if your children get ill?
Generally, you don’t need to seek specific treatment for gastroenteritis in case of minor symptoms. Most children can recover at home if you can follow the following instructions:
1. Make sure your child stays hydrated by offering plenty of fluids and rehydrating solutions. It is important to note that severe dehydration may require immediate hospitalisation. You can give them solutions like lemon juice, TCW and ORS that contain adequate amounts of water, sugar, and salt.
2. You can continue to breastfeed or give alternative milk (for children over 1 year) as long as they can digest it.
3. Prefer oral rehydration solution over plain water as it supplies the right nutrients for babies with dehydration.
4. Completely avoid full-strength juice (undiluted), sports drinks, or carbonated beverages due to their high sugar content that can make diarrhoea worse.
5. You can start with small amounts of solid foods, like lentils, rice, mashed potatoes, yogurt, fruits, and vegetables, only after the vomiting subsides.
Most importantly, allow your child the proper rest for a speedy recovery. You can give them medicine for fever or pain if your doctor prescribes it.
When should I call the doctor?
You should consult call a pediatrician if your child:
– has a high fever
– is peeing less often
– is unable to drink for several hours
– has blood in their poop or vomit
– has diarrhoea that doesn’t get better after several days
– is showing signs of dehydration, including having a dry mouth, acting very sleepy or less alert, crying with few or no tears, feeling dizzy or lightheaded or vomiting for over 24 hours or more.
(Manjari Chandra is a consultant, functional nutrition and nutritional medicine, Manjari Wellness, New Delhi. Her column appears every fortnight)