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Western Cape health department urges parents to take extra care to protect children from diarrhoea

Unclean hands can spread viruses that cause diarrhoea, the Western Cape Health Department said. File picture

Unclean hands can spread viruses that cause diarrhoea, the Western Cape Health Department said. File picture

Published Feb 2, 2022


Cape Town - The Western Cape Department of Health is appealing to the public to take extra care to protect children from diarrhoea.

It said an increase in hot temperatures in the province has led to a noticeable increase in the number of children being brought to health facilities with symptoms such as diarrhoea, dehydration and pneumonia.

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The health department said annually between November and March it sees a spike in children treated for diarrhoea, and as we enter the hottest month (February), it advises adults to be extra watchful over children.

“When your child has a runny tummy he/she may have diarrhoea.

“Unclean hands can spread viruses that cause diarrhoea.

“During hot summer days, food can easily get spoilt. If eaten, this can also cause diarrhoea, which can cause dehydration. As children can dehydrate very quickly, it can be life threatening,” it said.

Associate Professor Heloise Buys, head of the Clinical Unit Ambulatory & Emergency at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital, said one of the many reasons why diarrhoeal disease affects young children more seriously is that babies and young infants are completely dependent on their caregivers.

“They often can’t verbalise that they are thirsty. Also, because they are so much smaller than adults, losing a small amount of fluid in their watery stools is a big deal.

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“They more easily become dehydrated or go into shock.

“Take the sign of the first loose stool seriously and immediately start with replacement oral rehydration solution,” Buys said.

The solution can be made at home. All you need do is boil a litre of water and allow it to cool. Add the water to eight tablespoons of sugar and a half a teaspoon of salt.

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This solution can be given to children in small sips.

Caregivers are urged to continue feeding the child, giving small frequent snacks.

Diarrhoea can last between 48 and 72 hours.

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Sister Gale Goeieman from the Tulbagh Clinic said it is crucial to act quickly to avoid dehydration.

She has given tips for parents to encourage their child to drink the solution.

“We advise mothers to preferably give it in a cup or feeding bottle – whichever works best. You can also mix a small amount of juice with the solution or add a small amount of the cool drink you usually make to the solution.

“If this does not work and the child is still not taking in fluids, or is vomiting all the fluids they do drink, please come to the clinic so we can help to prevent severe dehydration,” Goeieman said.

Danger signs which require seeking medical help immediately include: blood in the child’s diaper or when using the toilet; the child vomiting everything; the child being unable to drink or breastfeed; having tremors or shakes; being short of breath or having any difficulty breathing; being not as alert as usual.

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