By DR PATCHARIN AMORNVIPAS
Although diseases of the digestive system are not lethal, they can cause suffering to children and their parents.
The cause of these diseases is basically down to behaviour. Children have a natural tendency to be adventurous. When they find something attractive, they put it in their mouths. This habit makes them vulnerable to gastro-oral route infections through their saliva.
A gastrointestinal virus means children will experience queasiness, upset stomach, low-grade fever, dehydration, vomiting of green stomach bile and general lack of energy.
Six-month old babies tend to be particularly exposed to this virus because, at this stage of their development, they regularly put their hands or contaminated toys into their mouths. Another environment where the virus is highly contagious and effectively circulates is in schools, the result of children sharing toys with their classmates. Here the virus may spread through the saliva or through saliva-soaked hands touching surfaces and toys. Although a gastrointestinal virus is highly contagious, it is not dangerous and can be prevented through good hygiene habits. In general, it is recommended that parents teach their children to wash their hands frequently.
However, certain cases may present with severe symptoms. For instance, if a child is vomiting two or three times per day, they run the risk of dehydration so a visit to the doctor is recommended.
Much of the food that we do not prepare ourselves these days tends to be presented in such a way as to be attractive to children. Whether on special occasions such as the National Children’s Day or on ordinary weekends, children enjoy the new experiences of participating in a variety of outdoors activities and oe of the most enjoyable parts of these adventures is the food and drink. The very hot and humid climate in a country like Thailand naturally makes people sweaty and thirsty, but parents should not just allow their children to consume whatever they wish. Bad consumption habits can harm their children’s digestive systems.
Diarrhoea is caused by a pathogen in unclean food or drink, the germs from which penetrate into the stomach and the large intestine. Symptoms include having three episodes of watery stool per day or one mucous bloody stool. Diarrhoea can be caused by a virus or bacteria.
Children infected with virus-induced diarrhoea experience a low-grade fever and watery stools, although with minimal loss of energy. While it is not necessary to see a doctor in such cases, it is important to keep the child well hydrated in order to alleviate the symptoms. Prepare a glass of oral rehydration solution to be gradually fed to the child every three to four hours. Avoid feeding the child from a milk bottle or through a tube as the intestine does not adjust to absorb fluids well in this way. As a result, the minerals will quickly be excreted in the stool.
Symptoms of rotavirus-induced diarrhoea are more pronounced with eight to 10 episodes of watery stool that leave the child dehydrated and weak. In these cases, a visit to the doctor is recommended and the child may need to be admitted to hospital to allow the doctor to observe developments.
Bacterial diarrhoea from dysentery and salmonella infection is much more dangerous. Noticeable symptoms of bacterial diarrhoea include high-grade fever, mucous bloody stool and cramping abdominal pain. Children with bacterial diarrhoea need to take antibiotics and should visit a doctor immediately.
Physicians provide symptomatic treatment to cure digestive tract infection in children, However, the most effective way to handle this problem is prevention. It has been found that school children have a high propensity to experience digestive tract infection, as they spend a great deal of time engaged in communal activities and sharing objects together. Each child should have his or her own water bottle, and teachers should encourage children to wash their hands and shared objects frequently.
These simple steps will not only cultivate good hygiene habits in children but also keep them safe from many avoidable diseases.
Finally, children and parents planning outdoors activities that involve food need to be aware that food stand operators tend to decorate their products to attract buyers, so always take the benefits, safety, and economy of the food into consideration. Try always to select food with natural colouring, dine in restaurants free of flies, and avoid food created obviously to attract attention, such as giant meatballs and red velvet crushed ice.
These items may contain harmful substances to which some children may be allergic.
Parents are much better off preparing simple food, such as fried egg sandwiches, for the kids. And make sure they always wash their hands before meals.
DR PATCHARIN AMORNVIPAS is a paediatrician gastroenterologist and hepatologist at Samitivej Children’s Hospital – Srinakarin Campus. |Call (02) 378 9082-83.