Now that the cold weather has returned and school is back in session, families can look forward to all the fun activities that are an integral part of this season, but it also a time when kids start getting sick. Once school gets going, kids start coughing and sneezing, their malaise compounded by the cooler weather. Thankfully most illnesses are not that severe, but the arrival of a stomach virus can make things more unpleasant, especially since most of them are highly contagious.

A stomach virus, commonly referred to as "stomach flu," is in fact gastroenteritis, and it is not caused by the flu virus, influenza. Gastroenteritis is a stomach infection resulting in stomachaches, diarrhea, fever, and vomiting, and is usually caused by a number of viruses, including norovirus, rotavirus, and adenovirus. When someone contracts a stomach virus, it usually passes within 2-5 days without the need for medication.

How to Treat a Stomach Bug

There is no cure for gastroenteritis, and antibiotics are not effective in treating viruses. The only course of action is to make the sick person as comfortable as possible and help to prevent the situation from escalating. Here are some things that you can do.

1. Stay Hydrated

One of the biggest concerns with a stomach bugs is dehydration. It is important to not only to stay hydrated, but to space-out consumption. Children should get 1 ounce of fluid every hour, consumed slowly. Frozen popsicles are also a good way to hydrate and your kids are likely to beg for more.

2. Drink the Right Stuff

When we're sick, our body loses important minerals and salts (i.e., electrolytes) that are not replenished with water alone. Oral rehydration solutions and clear broths are one way to help maintain electrolyte balance. Nursing babies should feed as usual. Avoid sugary beverages.

3. Don't Focus Only on Bland Foods

In the past doctors recommended eating a bland diet, or BRAT (bananas, rice, applesauce, toast), which is okay for the first day or so. Now, however, health experts believe that a sick person should resume eating a normal healthy diet as soon as possible.

4. Seek Out Certain Nutrients

Foods high in potassium are good for a stomach bug, including bananas and potatoes. Salt is an important electrolyte in proper amounts, and can be found in salty broths, soups, and pretzels. Yogurt can help to restore the flora in your gut and lean meats provide fat.

5. Over-the-Counter (OTC) Medication Is Not Necessary, But Allowable

OTC drugs are usually not necessary, but do provide some relief. Always follow the instructions, and consult with your pediatrician or nurse before giving them to your child.

6. Get Plenty of Rest

Our body can recover from an illness, but it needs good nutrition and plenty of rest. Avoid excessive exertion and moderate screen time to ensure proper amounts of rest.

How to Reduce Your Risk

1. Wash Your Hands

Have everyone in your family wash their hand regularly, especially before meals and after spending time in public places. Use warm water and lather hands thoroughly with soap.

2. Clean Surfaces

Wipe down surfaces around your house with a disinfectant when someone is sick. This is especially true for high risk locations like bathrooms and the kitchen.

3. Eat a Healthy Diet

Good nutrition is important for avoiding illness as well as recovery. Getting plenty of fruits, vegetables, and protein will keep young bodies strong and more resilient.

4. Get Plenty of Rest

Fatigue is a stress on the body that can lower immunity, so make sure your family gets plenty of rest and avoids over-scheduling and the stress that comes with it.

5. Dress Accordingly

Make sure your kids protect themselves from the elements, even if it contradicts fashion.

When to See a Doctor

It is advisable to seek medical attention if your sick child is under 3 months of age or if he or she is over 3 months old and:

  • Has been vomiting for more than 12 hours
  • Has had diarrhea for more than 2 days
  • Is running a high fever

Immediate medical attention is advisable if someone is dehydrated. Symptoms include:

  • Crying without tears
  • Three hours or more without a wet diaper
  • High fever
  • Dry tongue and mouth
  • Sunken cheeks or eyes
  • Sunken fontanel (soft spot) on a baby's head

For learn more about gastroenteritis, talk to your doctor or visit Kids Health.