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Diarrhoea and vomiting caused by gastroenteritis in under 5s: diagnosis and management

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Last updated:21st Apr 2009

Infective gastroenteritis in young children is characterised by the sudden onset of diarrhoea, with or without vomiting. Most cases are due to an enteric virus, but some are caused by bacterial or protozoal infections. The illness usually resolves without treatment within days; however, symptoms are unpleasant and affect both the child and family or carers. Severe diarrhoea can quickly cause dehydration, which may be life threatening.

This guideline applies to children younger than 5 years who present to a healthcare professional for advice in any setting. It covers diagnosis, assessment of dehydration, fluid management, nutritional management and the role of antibiotics and other therapies. It provides recommendations on the advice to be given to parents and carers, and also considers when care should be escalated – from home management through to hospital admission.


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