Eat Right: The monsoon bane for children — gastroenteritis

The Monsoon is on us and so too certain infections that harm the health, especially of the little ones, as the heat-and-humidity duo reaches peaks.

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The long-awaited rain can look refreshing after the tormenting summer heat, but it also carries the risk of bacterial and viral infections among children which can make it an unpleasant monsoon for you, if you do not take the necessary precautions.

When it rains heavily, water quality is adversely affected. Stormwater containing fecal material full of bacteria, viruses, protozoa and other microorganisms contaminates the water sources.

Waterborne protozoa, consisting of Cryptosporidium species and Giardia, are so ubiquitous that they have been detected even in the post-treatment drinking water supplies. When children come in contact with the contaminated water, they are more likely to develop bowel-related diseases, mainly gastroenteritis.

What is gastroenteritis?

Gastroenteritis refers to a general intestinal disorder in children causing inflammation of the digestive tract, due to exposure to bacteria, viruses or parasites through contaminated food, water or direct contact. The problem can cause symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting or both. In some cases, it can 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 can enter the human body through drugs such as air, water and food. Since it is a contagious disease, children can get it from other children who have either had it or been exposed to it.

Furthermore, the viral spread of gastroenteritis is attributed to fecal-oral transmission which refers to the transmission of the virus from the diarrhea stool (faeces) of an infected person into the digestive tract of another person through the mouth. It happens when children do not exercise proper hand hygiene and come into contact with children with diarrhea and / or their caregivers. In addition, sneezing and spitting can also transmit viral gastroenteritis.

What are the symptoms of gastroenteritis in children?

Children with gastroenteritis may experience one or more of the following symptoms:

– Diarrhea
– Braking
– Poor appetite
– Fever

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 reduce the risk of the disease during the rainy season:

* Breastfeeding is a great way to prevent gastroenteritis in babies. But of course, breastfeeding must maintain optimal hygienic conditions.
* Maintain proper hand hygiene while changing diapers.
* As children get old enough to understand instructions, teach them to wash their hands thoroughly and follow your advice to avoid contaminated water and food being stored incorrectly
* Make sure they do not eat anything that does not pass your alertness, especially during monsoon.
* It is better if they can follow the rule of thumb to avoid food and water from outside as much as possible.
* You can also reduce the risk of monsoon seasonal disease in your children by not allowing them to participate in recreational sports such as swimming in public water.
* Dehydration can make things worse for children at risk of gastroenteritis. You can avoid this by encouraging them to use liquids and rehydration drinks such as soft coconut water, lime water with salt and sugar and thin buttermilk at regular intervals.
* Since exposure to birds, reptiles or amphibians can increase the risk of intestinal related diseases as they can carry Salmonella bacteria, you should try to ensure that they stay away from the risk.

What should you do if your children get sick?

Generally, you do not need to seek specific treatment for gastroenteritis in case of minor symptoms. Most children can recover at home if you can follow the instructions below:

1. Make sure your child stays hydrated by presenting lots of fluids and rehydrating solutions. It is important to note that severe dehydration may require immediate hospitalization. You can give them solutions such as lemon juice, TCW and ORS which contain sufficient amounts of water, sugar and salt.
2. You can continue to breastfeed or give alternative milk (for children older than 1 year) as long as they can digest it.
3. Prefer oral rehydration solution over plain water as it provides the right nutrients for babies with dehydration.
4. Avoid full-strength juices (undiluted), sports drinks or carbonated drinks altogether due to their high sugar content which can aggravate diarrhea.
5. You can start with small amounts of solid foods, such as lentils, rice, mashed potatoes, yogurt, fruits and vegetables, only after the vomiting has subsided.

More importantly, give your child the right 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 a pediatrician if your child:

– has a high fever
– pee less often
– can not drink for a few hours
– have blood in their buttocks or vomit
– has diarrhea that does not get better after a few days
– shows signs of dehydration, including a dry mouth, acts very sleepy or less awake, cries with few or no tears, feels dizzy or lightheaded, or braking for more than 24 hours or more.

(Manjari Chandra is a consultant, Functional Nutrition and Nutrition Medicine, Manjari Wellness, New Delhi. Her column appears every two weeks)

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