March comes in like a lion – with diarrhea!

Just when you think winter season is finishing up – a cold blast of weather hits and a few snowflakes are hitting the ground. We pediatricians are still feeling the winter blues with plenty of children getting different illnesses. Even though it has not been a bad season weather-wise, we have seen the influenza infections of December and January change to the March of acute gastroenteritis.

Let’s talk about Rotavirus. Ask any parent who has had a child with this gastroenteritis infection and they will change their look to agony and say “no, not that!”

The flu is trickling away with the snow coming and melting, yet the community of Northwest Indiana is braving the surge of gastroenteritis illnesses. Many GI viruses lurk in the community but the rotavirus is a particularly bad bug. This is a seasonal virus seen winter through spring that can be passed person to person. In 2006 an oral vaccine came out for young infants to protect against the most common strains of this illness. Unfortunately some children did not get the vaccine or were in the age group older than 8 months when the vaccine was available. These children are now very susceptible to this virus and it loves company.

Did you know it only takes 10 spores of this virus to cause illness? That is a super virus that packs a punch. The symptoms of rotavirus infection are not specific compared to other lovely diarrhea viruses such as adenovirus and norovirus, but usually the child has non-bloody foul rotten egg smelling green diarrhea with abdominal cramps. Vomiting and fever can occur. The younger the child the more concern we have for dehydration. There is no specific medication to treat this viral infection. We pediatricians recommend electrolyte replacement fluids to rehydrate and sometimes we need to give intravenous fluid.

How do you prevent this virus from causing illness? Just like your mother always said, “WASH YOUR HANDS!” Washing hands often and before eating is a good habit. The virus is spread from diarrhea exposure and from the spores contaminating food, water and objects touched by hands contaminated from the diarrhea. Contain the diarrhea in the ill child and wash those hands after diaper changing or bathroom visits with the toilet trained child.

Can adults get this illness?? We are not as likely as our children – but let me tell you I have spent a Christmas break as a 28 year old pediatric resident with rotavirus infection and that was a gift I did not want any child or parent to get!!

I see spring around the corner and with the change of season comes the decline of this and other winter illnesses. So think warm weather, keep hands well washed, and on to the spring season- hopefully not too busy with allergies!

Dr. Lisa Gold is a pediatrician practicing in Crown Point, Indiana, at the Franciscan Physician Network – Crown Point Pediatric Health Center.

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