We all know that Covid isn’t the only virus circulating these days — kids (and grown-ups) can get good old fashioned colds and stomach bugs, too. If your kid gets a bad case of nausea or vomiting, you may not be able to rule out the coronavirus. It turns out that in kids, upset tummy can be a sign of Covid infection. So how can you tell if it’s a stomach bug or Covid?
The symptoms of Omicron and the BA.2 variant in kids
The latest wave of Covid infections have been caused by a BA.2, a new strain of the virus that’s a variant of Omicron, which swept through last winter. The latest reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) attributed nearly 55% of Covid infections in the United States to the BA.2 variant.
While respiratory symptoms are still a concern, symptoms of BA.2 may also look eerily similar to a stomach bug. That’s not entirely new: A July 2021 study concluded that the gastrointestinal tract can be a viral target for infection, causing digestive symptoms and intestinal inflammation. So, the new variant expressing itself with symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea makes sense.
Anecdotally, physicians across social media have also raised warning flags about the new variant’s differences from previous iterations of the virus, citing an increase in patients with primarily gastro symptoms.
As with previous variants, however, Covid symptoms may also include fever, chills, respiratory symptoms, body aches, headache, and loss of taste or smell. How the virus will manifest from one person to another is hard to predict.
How do you know if an upset stomach is a Covid symptom?
When you or your kids throw up or have diarrhea, it’s easy to brush it off as a typical stomach bug or just something you ate. After all, norovirus is highly contagious and extremely common, according to the Centers For Disease Control. The CDC website states that “norovirus is the most common cause of vomiting and diarrhea, and foodborne illness.”
As it turns out, a Covid test is the only way to determine if that pesky “stomach bug” is actually a BA.2 infection. Plus, with decreased mask mandates and a vaccine for the under 5 age group still in the works, community spread is still a looming concern.
“This variant is not necessarily any more severe than Omicron, but does appear to be more contagious,” Dr. Denise Scott, a pediatrician and pediatric endocrinologist, tells Romper via email. “Children have been one of the hardest hit groups. The Covid vaccine does offer protection, yet children remain the least vaccinated group and those under 5 years of age have not yet been approved for the vaccine.”
How to treat gastrointestinal symptoms at home.
Whether caused by Covid, norovirus, or even the flu, there are ways to ease gastrointestinal symptoms at home. For vomiting and diarrhea, Scott suggests “several measures to prevent dehydration and give comfort,” including sipping clear fluids (Pedialyte, diluted electrolyte drinks such as Gatorade, and broth) and taking anti-nausea or vomiting medication as recommended by your doctor.
When kids experience stomach problems, you should “seek medical attention if there are any signs or symptoms of dehydration, such as lack of urination for six hours or more in an infant or young child,” says Scott. She also warms that anyone with bloody stools, difficulty breathing, high fever, seizures, or significant “changes in behavior or mental status” should seek prompt emergency care.
As for preventing the spread of the new variant and it’s potential to create a vomit-fest in your home, experts say the same precautions still apply. “Protecting against this Covid variant are the same measures as recommended for other variants,” Scott tells Romper. “It is a respiratory virus. These include wearing masks — especially in crowds or public places, avoiding crowds, physical distancing, frequent hand washing, and vaccination.”
So, if your household catches that icky upset tummy going around, don’t panic, but be aware. When in doubt, take a test, stay home, stay hydrated, and rest up.
Zhang, J., Garrett, S., & Sun, J. (2021). Gastrointestinal symptoms, pathophysiology, and treatment in COVID-19. Genes & Diseases, 8(4), 385–400. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gendis.2020.08.013
Denise Scott, M.D., Just Answer pediatrician