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Norovirus and kids – the perfect mix

Norovirus and kids – the perfect mix

It happens at least once a year—the dreaded norovirus wave at daycare. The first year I was cavalier, thinking, “We’ll be the lucky ones who dodge it.” We most certainly weren’t. And neither was any other family in our cohort, as far as I know.

Why does this particular illness spread like wildfire when it comes to kids and daycare? Combine a bunch of people where half of them are still in diapers who put everything in their mouths and it’s a predictable outcome. The symptoms are terrible: violent vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramping. Symptoms usually start 1-2 days after the virus enters the body but could happen as soon as 12 hours after exposure.

Outbreaks are more common in places where many people gather, ie, daycares, schools, and cruise ships. A person becomes infected when they get tiny particles of feces or vomit from an infected person in their mouths. This can happen through direct contact, like caring for a sick child (especially when they throw-up all over you, as sick toddlers are wont to do), or sharing food or utensils with them.

Primary transmission through fecal-oral contact makes diapers an obvious, ubiquitous danger. Caretakers have unavoidable contact with children’s feces many, many times a day, so transmission, even with standardized handwashing, seems almost unavoidable. Anything coming into contact with a diaper can become contaminated. Fecal particles from diapers can also land on nearby objects or surfaces. Then kids can get the virus after putting their hands or something in their mouths that has been contaminated.

The good news is that most of us who have the misfortune of contracting norovirus recover quickly, usually in 1 to 3 days. Because it’s is a virus, it doesn’t respond to antibiotics, so treatment is supportive care only. Make sure to stay hydrated the best you can and rest while your body fights the bug. Emphasis on handwashing at home is important, especially among children who may not appreciate the importance of hygiene yet.

Lastly, parents can do their part to stop outbreaks from spreading by keeping their kids home while they are still contagious. A good rule of thumb is to keep children out of school or childcare until their vomiting and diarrhea has stopped for 24 hours. This same rule applies for allowing children into pools, where they can shed the virus into the water and infect other pool-goers.

If your child doesn’t seem to be getting better after a few days, here are signs it might be time to call the pediatrician:

-your child isn’t drinking

-your child shows signs of dehydration, such as no or less tears when crying, infrequent urination, or has no wet diapers in 4-6 hours

- your child continues to have vomiting and diarrhea even after a few days

- your child has severe pain or blood in their vomit or diarrhea

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