Gastroenteritis (‘gastro’) is a common childhood illness. It is usually caused by a virus and is very infectious. Children are usually unwell for a few days and get better on their own without medication.


Children with gastro feel unwell. They may have nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, tummy cramps and a fever. They often lose interest in eating. A main concern is dehydration. Children who are mildly dehydrated are thirsty. Once they become more dehydrated, children are no longer thirsty. They may have cold hands and feet, have a dry tongue and mouth, wee less often and may become drowsy. Dehydration is a serious concern and can be deadly. After illness with gastro, children may develop lactose intolerance due to damage to their bowel while ill. Diarrhoea may therefore persist for many weeks.


To prevent spread of infection, children with gastro (and their carers) need to practice strict hand hygiene. This includes washing and drying their hands thoroughly before and after meals, as well as after using the bathroom. Children should be isolated from others while unwell and should not return to daycare or school until at least 24 hours after their last loose bowel motion or vomit. Do not give your child medication to stop diarrhoea. Antibiotics are not usually needed either. Offer ample fluids to drink. It is best to give small amounts often. The ideal drink is an oral rehydration fluid. This can be purchased from the pharmacy. Alternatively, add one part lemonade or fruit juice to four parts water. If your child refuses to drink, offer an electrolyte icy pole (bought from the pharmacy). Do not worry if your child is not eating, as long as she is drinking enough. If your baby has gastro, see a doctor immediately. Losing only a small amount of fluid can lead to dehydration in a baby. Older children with gastro should see a doctor if they are losing a lot of fluid, not taking in enough fluid, are unwell, have blood in their stools or if you are concerned.

Reviewed by Dr Evelyn Lewin 25 February 2015 references
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This document has been developed and peer reviewed by a KIDS HEALTH Advisory Board Representative and is based on expert opinion and the available published literature at the time of review. Information contained in this document is not intended to replace medical advice and any questions regarding a medical diagnosis or treatment should be directed to a medical practitioner.

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