Stomach flu — two simple words that mean your child is vomiting, diarrhoea-ing, has tummy pains and fever. How often does it strike and what can you do?

My kid’s preschool classmates are puking — help!

Stomach flu outbreaks happen fairly often. At KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH), some 11,700 children were seen at the Children’s Emergency department in the first 10 months of 2011 for gastroenteritis, making up some 8.5 per cent of total emergency cases.

Stomach flu or gastroenteritis refers to an infection of the intestines. Dr Tham Lai Peng, Senior Consultant, Children's Emergency Service, KKH was quoted on HealthXchange, “It can be caused by exposure to a virus through person-to-person contact, or contact with a contaminated surface.” That is why it is so important for caregivers to properly wash their hands, and instil good handwashing habits in children.

He also listed eating contaminated food or drinking sullied water as reasons for gastroenteritis. Children can come into contact with virus-contaminated surfaces (by putting infected toys in their mouths), or be exposed to the vomit or faeces of an infected person (because of unclean hands and food). Rotavirus, which causes infections in the intestinal tract, results in a large proportion of hospitalisations due to gastroenteritis.

According to the Health Promotion Board, while there is no specific treatment for stomach flu, maintaining a high level of hygiene by washing hands regularly is crucial to preventing stomach flu. Vaccines can also be given to protect children from rotavirus, recommended at ages of 2 and 4 months old.

Doctors will give your medications to treat the symptoms, but other than that, it is important to make sure your tot is kept hydrated. Feeding them toast, plain rice or congee are often most helpful.

Due to the ease of transmission of gastroenteritis, pre-schools often become breeding grounds for stomach flu – children cluster in groups and unlike adults, are often unable to remember to maintain proper sanitation practices.

Pre-schools such as PCF have in place precautionary measures to protect the health and well—being of children. These include maintaining high levels of hygiene and cleanliness in centres -including regular disinfection of toys and classroom equipment, reinforcement of the importance of good personal hygiene habits in staff and children on a daily basis and regular health checks to identify children who may be ill and require isolation/medical attention.

Parents are also advised to closely monitor the health of their own children and bring them to see the doctor if they are showing any symptoms of illness, and keeping them out of preschool, when they are ill. In cases of any outbreak of contagious illness, mixed age group activities would be temporarily suspended and inter-class interactions minimised.