Don’t mistake COVID-19 for kids’ common stomach bugs that circulate in winter

A D.C.-area infectious diseases specialist wants children to get tested for the coronavirus if they have gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms, since COVID-19 can start with a loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain.

“GI symptoms can precede the fever, cough and respiratory symptoms that we typically see,” said Dr. Ruth Kanthula a pediatric infectious diseases specialist with MedStar Health.

“It’s really important that during the COVID pandemic, that doctors and parents not ignore the GI symptoms and pay attention to them and think about them as being part of a COVID infection,” Kanthula said.

“And the reason to do the testing is, as the literature and the understanding of GI symptoms and COVID are evolving for children — some studies are suggesting that children with GI symptoms are more likely to get hospitalized,” Kanthula said. “So, do the testing and pay attention to your child’s symptoms.”

During winter, it’s common for kids to come down with ailments generally referred to as stomach bugs, such as rotavirus, norovirus, astrovirus and adenovirus.

To help someone with GI symptoms be sure they stay well-hydrated by drinking lots of fluids; if they have a fever, Kanthula said to make sure that they get Tylenol or Motrin, as needed.

Signs that a child with GI symptoms should go to the hospital immediately are profuse diarrhea that makes it hard to stay hydrated, severe abdominal pain and blood in the stool.

“There is some evidence that the COVID virus is excreted in the stool, so all of the things that we’ve been doing are very important,” she said. “Washing your hands is very important. Obviously wearing a mask to prevent the spread, and then getting vaccinated.”

She added, “And one of the reasons I stress getting vaccinated is because the antibodies that we talk about in our body can also be secreted by our GI tract, and so can also provide protection that way.”

To emphasize, she said, “Wash hands, wear masks, and definitely get vaccinated if you’re eligible.”

More Coronavirus News

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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