Viral gastroenteritis is contagious, and if you are around newborn babies, you should be aware that inadvertently passing the germs to them puts their health at serious risk. Here are a few reasons why:
The rotavirus, which is often the infectious agent in viral gastroenteritis, is the most common cause of diarrhea in infants and children under 5, according to the Centers for Disease Control. For infants, diarrhea can lead to a severe loss of fluids, or dehydration.
In addition, infants who begin vomiting from gastroenteritis can easily become dehydrated. To prevent this, parents and caregivers must carefully monitor the infant’s intake of breast milk, formula and - if a doctor recommends it - an oral electrolyte solution, which is a balance of water, essential salts and a bit of sugar. It’s important to follow a healthcare practitioner’s instructions for the amount and frequency of liquids.
Infants who do become dehydrated might show a number of symptoms including a sticky mouth, a diaper that stays dry for several hours, inactivity, rapid breathing and a sunken soft spot on the infant’s head. Severe cases might require hospitalization.
Online encyclopedia information from Banner Health (“Viral Gastroenteritis in Children”) cautions that a fever of 100.4 degrees or higher, bloody diarrhea and/or vomiting and diarrhea that has lasted more than six hours are among the signs of a medical emergency.
With these scenarios in mind, it should be obvious to stay away from infants if you have the stomach flu. Even if you are on the mend, think twice before getting close to a baby.
Remember, too, that you can carry a stomach flu virus without showing symptoms. Wash your hands thoroughly before you cuddle a baby, and make sure any surfaces where you place the baby to rest have been sanitized, and that any clothing or blankets you use on the baby have been machine washed.
Fortunately for new parents, a rotavirus vaccine has been available since 2006 and can be routinely administered to infants at the time of other childhood vaccinations. According to the CDC, before the initiation of rotavirus vaccines, almost every child in the United States became infected with rotavirus sometime before age 5.
It’s good to be aware, though, of other viruses that can turn into serious illness for babies including noroviruses, adenoviruses and astroviruses. Again, be vigilant about hand washing, especially if you are in a crowded environment, a care facility or a food preparation area.
Reviewed August 2, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Shannon Koehle