Babies and acute diarrhea

July 2015

Babies and acute diarrhea


Diarrhea is quite common in children: symptoms can vary from mild loose stool to watery explosive diarrhea. Diarrhea is 3 or more soft or liquid stools in 24 hours and in more severe cases medical intervention is required.
  • Diarrhoea is usually viral in origin and accounts for more than 90% of cases. Rotavirus is the most common, which is a virus that can cause infections of the gastrointestinal tract and upper respiratory tract such as tonsillitis and ear infections.
  • Diarrhoea and vomiting together with a fever can also be a sign of urinary tract infection, pneumonia, and meningitis.
  • Viral diarrhoea usually lasts 2 to 3 days.
  • Diarrhoea caused by bacteria are food poisoning germs such as Shigella, Salmonella and Campylobacter. Vomiting and a high fever often accompany the diarrhoea and they sometimes require antibiotic treatment.
  • The danger of acute diarrhoea is dehydration and weight loss.


It is essential to monitor the child's weight from the first signs of a diarrhoea. When it exceeds 5% of the weight of the baby, it is urgent to seek medical advice.


Recognising the first signs of dehydration



When weight loss reaches or exceeds 10% of a baby's weight, signs of dehydration appear :
  • Decreased urinary output
  • Deep set eyes and circles under the eyes
  • Tiredness
  • Floppy and lethargic
  • Dry tongue
  • Depressed fontanelles

Oral rehydration salts (ORS) and fluids to avoid acute dehydration

  • A baby that is dehydrated is thirsty and needs to drink. Giving a baby only water to drink will not prevent dehydration.
  • It is important for you to encourage your child to drink plenty. You must continue with breast or bottle-feeding.
  • In addition to fluids, ORS are necessary. They can be purchased from a pharmacy and sachets are made up with freshly boiled and cooled water for children less than one year.
  • Only 70% of children with diarrhoea symptoms take ORS. In order to prevent dehydration all children with liquid watery stool should take oral rehydration salts.
  • 1 powder sachet of the solution should be reconstituted with 2OO ml of water (freshly boiled and cooled water if under one year).


The solution is given to a baby 50ml per kilogram over 4 hours as well as maintenance fluids. ORS should be given frequently, in small amounts. Continue ORS at a rate of 10 ml/kilo after each watery stool.

Seek urgent medical help if your child is showing signs of dehydration

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See also


Diarrhée aigue du nourrisson
Diarrhée aigue du nourrisson
La diarrea aguda del bebé
La diarrea aguda del bebé
Akuter Durchfall bei Babys
Akuter Durchfall bei Babys
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