Young children are particularly susceptible to diarrhoea. This is because their immune system is still developing and because they often put their fingers and other objects in their mouths whilst playing. Diarrhoea increases the risk of dehydration.
Good hygiene, such as regular hand washing, reduces the risk of diarrhoea. In babies, breastfeeding is the best way to build up the child’s resistance.
Dehydration is the greatest danger to young children. This condition can develop very quickly if a child has diarrhoea and suffers persistent vomiting. The combination of high ambient temperatures and fever accelerates the process. Immediate medical attention is required if there are signs of moderate to severe dehydration such as bloody diarrhoea, body temperature of 38.5°C or higher, or persistent vomiting. For children under two years the use of antidiarrhoeal drugs such as loperamide is discouraged. Furthermore, many types of antibiotics should not be given to children, including ciprofloxacin and tetracycline. Antibiotics should only be given in consultation with a doctor.
When children show signs of dehydration the World Health Organisation advises the use of an oral rehydration solution (ORS) - a solution of sugars and salts. Such solutions are specifically formulated to prevent dehydration. Always use clean water when making up the solution. A dehydrated child will drink eagerly. If the child spits the solution out, continue to give it small sips with a spoon.