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Mayor Wu announced a heat emergency in the City of Boston through Wednesday, July 17. Cooling centers will be open at 14 BCYF community centers Monday through Wednesday, from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.
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Diarrheal illness in children

This fact sheet answers frequently asked questions about diarrheal illnesses in children.

Diarrheal illnesses are the result of germs that grow in the intestines (bowels) and pass out of the body in stool.

The basics

What are diarrheal illnesses? 

Anyone can get diarrheal illnesses. You can catch these illnesses over and over. People with these germs in their stool may not have diarrhea or feel sick. 

How are diarrheal illnesses diagnosed?

You can diagnose some of these diseases by looking at the stool under a microscope. You can identify others by growing the germs in the lab or by chemical lab tests. Since the germs are usually passed in the stools off and on, you may need to check stool samples from several days.

How do diarrheal illnesses spread? 

When people do not wash their hands well after using the toilet, changing diapers, or helping a child use the toilet germs stay on their hands and their child's hands. The germs spread to anything they touch (including food, drinks, and toys) and then to other people’s hands and mouths. The germs are then swallowed by other people where they grow and cause an infection. Diarrheal diseases spread easily among children because it is normal for them to get their hands into everything and many are too young to wash their hands well.


How do you stop the spread of these diseases? 

  • Be sure everyone washes their hands with soap and water after using the toilet, helping a child use the toilet, or changing a diaper, and before preparing or eating food. Babies and children need to have their hands washed too at these times. A quick rinse is not enough, be sure to wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 15 seconds
  • If someone in your household gets diarrhea, you may want to talk to your healthcare provider. This is especially important if someone in your household handles or prepares food as a job
  • Most people with diarrheal illnesses do not need medicine. Symptoms usually resolve in 2-5 days. If you have blood in your stool (bowel) or symptoms persist or are severe, you should talk with your healthcare provider. Your healthcare provider will decide if you or other household members need treatment
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