Stomach flu is an infection of the digestive system and is not related to the regular flu (influenza) anyway which affects the respiratory system. It is the gastroenteritis presenting with diarrhoea caused by Rotavirus. Rotavirus diarrhoea is the commonest cause of diarrhoea in infants and young children all over the world that contributes almost 40% of cases.
It predominantly affects in winter season. With the season running, it is now the commonest cause of diarrhoea in young children in Bangladesh.
Rotavirus diarrhoea is not very difficult to manage but even then each year 450,000 children under five years of age dies because of Rotavirus gastroenteritis. Most of the deaths occur in developing countries like Bangladesh.
When Rotavirus attacks, it produces watery diarrhoea along with other symptoms that include low grade fever, vomiting, dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. Dehydration followed by profuse diarrhoea is the cause of death in Rotavirus infection. In each episode of infection, patients develop some immunity and that is why subsequent infections are less severe then the first attack.
The virus is transmitted through contaminated hands, food and other objects. The feces of an infected person contain 10 trillions infectious particles per gram of stool. Rotavirus are stable in the environment and survives between 9-19 days.
Diagnosis of Rotavirus is mostly done by symptoms and examining physical signs. Sometimes, physician may seek laboratory help to diagnose and exclude other diseases.
The mainstay of management of Rotavirus diarrhoea is to replace water and electrolyte that is lost during the episode. Prompt correction of dehydration with ORS is essential in any children and sometimes with rice saline needed. However, if the condition of the children is severe or is not improving with time, prompt consultation with a doctor or hospitalisation is warranted.
In order to prevent the disease, maintenance of personal hygiene is very important. Proper and frequent hand washing with soap is the most cost-effective way to prevent virus entering into the body.
For more protection against Rotavirus, the vaccine is available in our country, although it is not given with routine national immunisation schedule. It is available in various centres and should be administered orally without painful injections. There are only 2 doses where first dose is administered at the age of 6-8 weeks and second one to be administered 4-6 weeks after the first dose. Both doses have to be completed before six months of baby’s age.
Like taking caution against seasonal flu in this winter, precautions against stomach flu is also crucial for your baby. You can consider certain effective preventive tools like vaccine, maintenance of personal hygiene including proper hand washing to keep Rotavirus at bay.
The writer is a Paediatrician working at Community Based Medical College (CBMC), Mymensingh.