The very hot conditions in the Western Cape have led to a noticeable increase in cases of diarrhea, dehydration, and pneumonia in children.
It is most probably the first warning of its kind in South Africa.
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE WARNING?
Western Cape Government Health spokesperson Sandra Maritz said while the extremely hot weather can be intolerable, it is young children who often bear the brunt of it.
“The very hot conditions experienced in many parts of the Western Cape have led to a noticeable increase in the number of children brought to Western Cape Health’s facilities with symptoms like diarrhea, dehydration, and pneumonia.
Maritz said they usually see a spike in children treated for diarrhoeal disease from November to March.
“As we enter February, usually the hottest month, the Department is advising adults to be extra watchful over children. When your child has a runny tummy, he/she may have diarrhea.
“Unclean hands can spread viruses that cause diarrhea. During hot summer days, food can easily get spoilt. If eaten, this can also cause diarrhea, which can cause dehydration. As children can dehydrate very quickly, it can be life-threatening,” she said.
WHY ARE CHILDREN AFFECTED MORE SERIOUSLY BY THIS?
Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital’s Associate Professor Heloise Buys (Head of Clinical Unit Ambulatory & Emergency) said among the many reasons why the diarrhoeal disease affects young children more seriously is the fact that babies and young infants are completely dependent on their caregivers and mothers to feed them and to give them all the fluids they need.
“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. They more easily become dehydrated or go into shock,” Buys said.
He cautioned parents to take the sign of the first loose stool seriously and immediately start with ‘replacement Oral Rehydration Solution’.
HOW TO MAKE AN ORAL REHYDRATION SOLUTION:
You can make the solution at home: Boil a litre of water and let it cool down. Add to the water eight tablespoons of sugar and half a teaspoon of salt. Give the child small sips of the solution. Continue feeding the child. Give the child small, frequent snacks. Diarrhea can last 48 to 72 hours. Care for your child at home rather than sending him to the crèche or school.
Sr Gale Goeieman of Tulbagh Clinic stressed the importance of quickly acting to avoid dehydration.
“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 vomiting all fluids they do drink, please come to the clinic so that we can help to prevent severe dehydration.”
WHEN SHOULD YOU GET MEDICAL HELP?
Danger signs that you should immediately get medical help, include:
- If there is blood in the child’s nappy or when they use the toilette,
- If the child vomits everything
- If the child is unable to drink or breastfeed
- If the child has tremors or shakes
- If the child is short of breath or has difficulty breathing
- If the child is not as alert as usual (the child is unusually quiet, not interested in their surroundings and not upright as usual)
Parents and caregivers can boost children’s health further by ensuring they receive their routine immunisations according to the Road to Health booklet, and that they are fed with breastmilk for as long as possible.
Always keep your kitchen clean by using warm water and soap to wash surfaces, and teach children to wash their hands after using the toilet and before eating.