Food poisoning is illness that is passed along in food. It usually occurs 1 to 24 hours after eating food that has spoiled. It is often caused by toxins from bacteria in food that has not been cooked or refrigerated properly. Symptoms may include vomiting, diarrhea, and fever. These symptoms usually last 1 to 2 days. Antibiotics are usually not needed but may be used for some food poisoning caused by bacteria.
The main danger from this illness is dehydration. This is the loss of too much water and minerals from the body. When this occurs, your child's body fluids must be replaced. This can be done with oral rehydration solution. You can get oral rehydration solution at pharmacies and most grocery stores.
Follow all instructions given by your child’s healthcare provider.
If giving medicines to your child:
Don’t give over-the-counter diarrhea medicines unless your child’s healthcare provider tells you to. These can make the illness last longer.
You can use acetaminophen or ibuprofen to control pain and fever. Or, you can use other medicine as prescribed.
Don’t give aspirin to anyone under 18 years of age who has a fever. This may cause liver damage and a life-threatening condition called Reye syndrome.
To prevent the spread of illness:
Remember that washing with soap and water or using alcohol-based sanitizer is the best way to prevent the spread of infection.
Wash your hands before and after caring for your sick child.
Clean the toilet or the diaper change area after each use. Dispose of soiled diapers in a sealed container.
Keep your child out of day care until your child's healthcare provider says it's OK.
Teach your child to wash his or her hands after using the toilet and before meals. This is very important if your child is in day care.
Wash your hands before and after preparing food. Keep in mind that people with diarrhea or vomiting should not prepare food for others.
Wash your hands and utensils after using cutting boards, countertops and knives that have been in contact with raw foods.
Wash and then peel fruits and vegetables.
Keep uncooked meats away from cooked and ready-to-eat foods.
Use a food thermometer when cooking. Cook poultry to at least 165°F (74°C). Cook ground meat (beef, veal, pork, lamb) to at least 160°F (71°C). Cook fresh beef, veal, lamb, and pork to at least 145°F (63°C).
Don’t serve raw or undercooked eggs (poached or sunny side up), poultry, meat, or unpasteurized milk or juices to your child.
The main goal while treating vomiting or diarrhea is to prevent dehydration. This is done by giving your child small amounts of liquids often.
If your baby is breastfed:
For diarrhea: Keep breastfeeding. Feed your child more often than usual. If diarrhea is severe, give oral rehydration solution between feedings. As diarrhea decreases, stop giving oral rehydration solution and resume your normal breastfeeding schedule.
For vomiting: After 2 hours with no vomiting, restart breastfeeding. Spend half the usual feeding time on each breast every 1 to 2 hours. If your child vomits again, reduce feeding time to 5 minutes on one breast only, every 30 to 60 minutes. Switch to the other breast with each feeding. Some milk will be absorbed even when your child vomits. As vomiting stops, resume your regular breastfeeding schedule.
If your baby is bottle-fed:
Give small amounts of fluid at a time, especially if your child is vomiting. An ounce or two (30 to 60 mL) every 30 minutes may improve symptoms. Start with 1 teaspoon (5 mL) every 5 minutes and increase gradually as tolerated.
For diarrhea: Give full-strength formula or milk. If diarrhea is severe, give oral rehydration solution between feedings. If giving milk and the diarrhea is not getting better, stop giving milk. In some cases, milk can make diarrhea worse. Try soy or rice formula. Do not give apple juice, soda, or other sweetened drinks. Drinks with sugar can make diarrhea worse. If your child starts doing worse with food, go back to clear liquids.
For vomiting: After 2 hours with no vomiting, try giving regular formula or milk. If at any time the child begins to vomit again, go back to small amounts of clear liquids. Begin with small amounts and increase the amount as tolerated.
If your child is doing well after 24 hours, resume a regular diet and feeding schedule.
If your child is on solid food:
Keep in mind that liquids are more important than food right now. Give small amounts of liquids at a time, especially if the child is having stomach cramps or vomiting.
For diarrhea: If you are giving milk to your child and the diarrhea is not going away, stop the milk. In some cases, milk can make diarrhea worse. If that happens, use oral rehydration solution instead. If diarrhea is severe, give oral rehydration solution between feedings. Sports drinks are not equivalent to oral rehydration solutions. They contain too much sugar and too few electrolytes.
For vomiting: Begin with oral rehydration solution at room temperature. Give 1 teaspoon (5 ml) every 5 minutes. Even if your child vomits, continue to give oral rehydration solution. Much of the liquid will be absorbed, despite the vomiting. After 2 hours with no vomiting, begin with small amounts of milk or formula and other fluids. Increase the amount as tolerated. Do not give your child plain water, milk, formula, or other liquids until vomiting stops. As vomiting decreases, try giving larger amounts of oral rehydration solution. Space this out with more time in between. Continue this until your child is making urine and is no longer thirsty (has no interest in drinking). After 4 hours with no vomiting, restart solid foods. After 24 hours with no vomiting, resume a normal diet.
You can resume your child's normal diet over time as he or she feels better. Don’t force your child to eat, especially if he or she is having stomach pain or cramping. Don’t feed your child large amounts at a time, even if he or she is hungry. This can make your child feel worse. You can give your child more food over time if he or she can tolerate it. For a baby over 4 months, you can give cereal, mashed potatoes, applesauce, mashed bananas, or strained carrots during this time. For children age 1 or older, you can add crackers, white bread, rice, crackers, and other complex starches, lean meats, yogurt, fruits, and vegetables. Low-fat diets are easier to digest than high-fat diets.
If the symptoms come back, go back to a simple diet or clear liquids.
Follow up with your child’s healthcare provider, or as advised. If a stool sample was taken or cultures were done, call the healthcare provider for the results as instructed.
Call 911 if your child has any of these symptoms:
Extreme drowsiness or loss of consciousness
Rapid heart rate
Call your child’s healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:
Abdominal pain that gets worse
Constant lower right abdominal pain
Repeated vomiting after the first 2 hours on liquids
Occasional vomiting for more than 24 hours
More than 8 diarrhea stools within 8 hours
Continued severe diarrhea for more than 24 hours
Blood or black material in vomit or stool
Reduced oral intake
Dark urine or no urine for 4 to 6 hours, no tears when crying, sunken eyes, or dry mouth
Fussiness or crying that cannot be soothed
Diarrhea lasting more than 1 week
Fever (see Fever and children, below)
Always use a digital thermometer to check your child’s temperature. Never use a mercury thermometer.
For infants and toddlers, be sure to use a rectal thermometer correctly. A rectal thermometer may accidentally poke a hole in (perforate) the rectum. It may also pass on germs from the stool. Always follow the product maker’s directions for proper use. If you don’t feel comfortable taking a rectal temperature, use another method. When you talk to your child’s healthcare provider, tell him or her which method you used to take your child’s temperature.
Here are guidelines for fever temperature. Ear temperatures aren’t accurate before 6 months of age. Don’t take an oral temperature until your child is at least 4 years old.
Infant under 3 months old:
Ask your child’s healthcare provider how you should take the temperature.
Rectal or forehead (temporal artery) temperature of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider
Armpit temperature of 99°F (37.2°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider
Child age 3 to 36 months:
Rectal, forehead (temporal artery), or ear temperature of 102°F (38.9°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider
Armpit temperature of 101°F (38.3°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider
Child of any age:
Repeated temperature of 104°F (40°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider
Fever that lasts more than 24 hours in a child under 2 years old. Or a fever that lasts for 3 days in a child 2 years or older.
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