Fort Worth, Texas,
10:40 AM

My child's stomach bug - When to call the doctor

The Doc Smitty talks shigella, salmonella and when to be concerned

When is a stomach bug not just a stomach bug?

How do you know when it is something else or when it could be more dangerous?

A report last week from the CDC described a cluster of infections caused by shigella, a bacteria that can cause severe diarrhea.

Shigella is common, causing an estimated 500,000 cases of diarrhea in the United States annually. But this group of infections is unique because it has been found to be resistant to the most common type of antibiotic used in adults used for shigella. Most cases have been located on the East and West coast and many have been associated with travel outside the United States.

Fortunately, there were no cases of this more severe form of shigella reported in Texas so I feel that we are pretty low risk at this point. I did want to take a second to tell you about warning signs that might alert you that diarrhea might be more than a stomach bug.

Here are some symptoms that might alert you that should trigger a call to your doctor:

  1. Severe vomiting with decreased urine frequency or other signs of dehydration.
  2. Fever more than 102.
  3. Blood or mucous in the stool.
  4. Severe belly pain.
  5. Diarrhea that last more than one week.
  6. Let your doctor know if your child has traveled recently.

What are Salmonella and Shigella?

Two of the most common bacterial causes of infection are salmonella and shigella. They are both fairly frequent causes of severe diarrhea in children.

They can both be transmitted by contaminated food or water but can also be spread from person to person. Salmonella is more frequently caused by transmission from contaminated food, but also can be contracted from infected reptiles. Shigella is more frequently acquired from other children and is much more contagious than salmonella.

(Just to give you an idea, stool of a child infected with shigella contains 100,000,000 bacteria per gram of stool. Ingesting just 200 bacterial cells is enough to cause infection. Because of this, outbreaks of Shigella are common in child-care settings.)

The most common symptoms with both infections are diarrhea, abdominal pain and fever. With shigella, fever is often higher and children are more likely to have blood or mucous in their stools.

For either infection, your doctor can run stool studies to confirm the diagnosis. This may not be necessary if there are known cases that the child has been exposed to.

Both infections will typically go away on their own in seven days or less. Most healthy children do not require antibiotics. I do not routinely recommend anti-diarrheal medications in children because they can prolong symptoms with some infections.

If you suspect your child has one of these infections, consult with your doctor and keep them out of day care until we are sure they will not put other children are risk.




Most Common Symptoms


Abdominal Pain


Abdominal Pain


Blood or mucous in stool


Usually via food

Usually from other children


Fluids and hydration

Fluids and hydration

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