Tag: food poisoning

What is Causing your Child’s Diarrhea?

Often described as the "cruise ship virus," you can get norovirus infections in daycare centers, schools, or after eating at a restaurant.
Often described as the “cruise ship virus,” you can get norovirus infections in daycare centers, schools, or after eating at a restaurant. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Why does your child have diarrhea?

Could it be the “stomach flu,” food poisoning, or just an intolerance to something your child eat?

Common Causes of Diarrhea

While parents often quickly jump to the idea of “food poisoning,”  infections are typically the most common cause of diarrhea in kids.

These include:

  • viruses – rotavirus (a vaccine preventable disease), adenovirus, and norovirus
  • bacteria – C. diff, Salmonella, Shigella, E. coli, Campylobacter jejuni, Bacillus cereus, Listeria, Cholera
  • parasites – Cryptosporidium, Giardia, Cyclospora

Not all diarrhea is caused by infections though. If the diarrhea lingers for more than a few weeks or keeps coming and going, then you might consider that your child might have a lactose intolerance, irritable bowel syndrome, Celiac disease,  or other non-infectious cause.

Hints of Diarrhea Causes and Risk Factors

To help figure out what might be causing your child’s diarrhea, consider these questions and share the answers with your pediatrician:

  • Does your child have bloody diarrhea (sometimes a sign of a bacterial infection)?
  • Is your child getting dehydrated? While that doesn’t tell you want is causing the diarrhea, it is a good sign that you need to seek medical attention.
  • Does your younger child (under age 2 to 4 years) have bloody diarrhea that is becoming jelly-like and episodes of severe, colicky abdominal pain (sign of intussusception)?
  • Is your child in daycare? Has anyone else recently been sick with diarrhea or vomiting?
  • Has your child recently been on antibiotics (a risk for C. diff)?
  • Does your toddler with diarrhea drink a lot of juice (Toddler’s diarrhea)?
  • Have you recently traveled out of the country (Traveler’s diarrhea)? Did your child get sick a few days later (could be a bacterial or viral cause) or a few weeks later (parasites have longer incubation periods)?
  • Has your child recently spent time on a lake or river and possibly drank untreated water (risk for Giardia infection)?
  • Do you have any high risk pets, including turtles, snakes, lizards (or other reptiles); frogs, salamanders, newts (or other amphibians); chicks, chickens, ducklings, ducks, geese, and turkeys (or other poultry); mice, rats, hamsters, and guinea pigs (or other rodents); or farm animals (all can be a risk for Salmonella)?
  • Have you recently visited a farm or petting zoo (risk for Salmonella and E. coli)?
  • Has your child recently visited a water park or public swimming pool (risk for Cryptosporidium)?
  • Does your child drink raw milk, unpasteurized juice, raw or undercooked eggs, or undercooked beef, pork, and poultry (risk for food poisoning)?
  • Has your child recently eaten leftover food that had been unrefrigerated for more than two hours (risk for food poisoning)?
  • Is the diarrhea worse after your child drinks a lot of milk or eats a lot of dairy (a sign of lactose intolerance)?
  • Does your child have alternating episodes of constipation and diarrhea (irritable bowel syndrome)?
  • In addition to chronic diarrhea, is your child irritable, with poor weight gain and other symptoms (a sign of Celiac disease)?
  • Does your child also have abdominal pain or just diarrhea?
  • Is your child taking any medications that might cause diarrhea as a side effect?

Once you have narrowed down the possibilities, blood and stool tests, including stool culture tests for bacteria, parasites, and viruses can sometimes help to figure out what is causing your child’s diarrhea. Keep in mind that these are usually reserved for diarrhea symptoms that are severe (bloody diarrhea, fever, weight loss, etc.)  or lingering for more than a few weeks.

And remember that the most common causes of diarrhea, including food poisoning and viral infections, typically go away on their own without treatment. In fact, you can make things worse if you treat some causes of diarrhea with antibiotics, including some Salmonella, Shigella, E. coli infections.

Still don’t know what is causing your child’s diarrhea? In addition to your pediatrician, a pediatric gastroenterologist can be helpful when your child has diarrhea.

What To Know About Diarrhea

While diarrhea is common in kids and we often don’t figure out the specific cause before it goes away on its own, there are clues that can help you figure out if your child’s diarrhea is caused by a virus, bacteria, parasite, or other condition.

For More Information on Diarrhea

The Numbers Behind Keeping Food Safe

Learn the four basic steps to keep your food safe from germs.
Learn the four basic steps to keep your food safe from germs.

There is no safe food when it comes to food poisoning. Eggs, fruits, meats, vegetables and even organic sprouts can all become contaminated.

That makes it important to learn how to keep your food safe.

Although many things are being done to reduce contamination before food gets to us, it is just as important to prepare, cook and store food properly so that our kids don’t get sick.

Food Safety Numbers

There are some numbers related to food safety that you might be all too familiar with – about 48 million people get sick from food poisoning each year, sending 100,000 people to the hospital, and causing about 3,000 deaths

Reducing food poisoning is a “winnable battle” though, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But of course, safe food doesn’t just happen. It takes a little work, starting with understanding some of the other numbers associated with food safety, such as:

  • 4 – the number of steps to proper food safety – clean, separate, cook, chill
  • 0˚F – the temperature to set your freezer (0˚F or below)
  • 40˚F – the temperature to set your refrigerator (between 40˚F and 32˚F)
  • 140˚F – the temperature you should keep food after cooking
  • 145˚F – the minimum internal temperature to cook pork, fresh ham, steaks, roasts, chops and other whole meats (cook to the right temperature)
  • 160˚F – the minimum internal temperature to cook egg dishes and ground meat (cook to the right temperature)
  • 165˚F – the minimum internal temperature to cook poultry and reheat leftovers (cook to the right temperature)
  • 3 minutes – the amount of “rest time” you should wait to make sure harmful germs are killed after cooking food, which is especially important after cooking steaks, roasts, chops, fresh pork and fresh ham. Don’t just heat and eat your food.
  • 2 hours – the maximum about of time that perishable food should be left out before you put it in the refrigerator
  • 90˚F – the outside temperature that should alert you that you need to refrigerate perishable food after just one hour, instead of the usual two hours
  • 20 seconds – how long you should wash your hands before, during and after preparing food and before eating.
  • 4 hours – the amount of time that a refrigerator will usually keep food cold if the power goes out and the refrigerator door is not opened. After that time, throw out perishable food that has been above 40˚F for two hours or more.
  • 3 to 4 days – how long most leftovers can be safely stored in the refrigerator
  • 15 to 20 – the number of Salmonella cells in undercooked food that can cause food poisoning
  • Less than 5 minutes – how long it takes to report a case of food poisoning to your local health department so that you can help to prevent a larger outbreak.

How can you tell the internal temperature of foods that you are cooking? Use a food thermometer, as you can’t tell when foods are safely cooked by simply looking at them.

And be on the alert for food recalls, to make sure that you don’t have contaminated foods in your home.

What To Know About Keeping Food Safe

Do all of these numbers sound too hard to do or keep up with, especially when you are trying to have fun at a cook out or family dinner?

Remember, it is better than the alternative, 2 to 10 days of vomiting and diarrhea because your family developed symptoms of food poisoning…

For More Information on Food Safety Numbers:

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