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Diarrhoea

Diarrhoea — Facts for Life




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Diarrhoea


Why it is important - Resources

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Diarrhoea is the second most common cause of death in young children, after pneumonia. About 4 billion cases of diarrhoea are estimated to occur every year among children under 5. It kills more than 1.5 million children under 5 years of age every year, representing 17 per cent of all deaths in children under 5. Children are more likely than adults to die from diarrhoea because they become dehydrated and malnourished more quickly.

Diarrhoea is caused by germs that are swallowed, especially germs from faeces. This happens most often where there is unsafe disposal of faeces, poor hygiene practices, lack of clean drinking water, or when infants are not breastfed.

Infants who are exclusively breastfed in their first six months and who receive all their immunizations on time are less likely to get diarrhoea. Children with diarrhoea should be given lots of fluids and foods along with a special solution called oral rehydration salts (ORS) and zinc to help reduce the severity of the illness.

Families and communities, with support from governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), can do much to raise awareness of 1) what causes diarrhoea, 2) why it is important to treat diarrhoea as soon as it starts, and 3) how to prevent the conditions that cause it.

When everyone works together to reduce diarrhoea, children's right to life, survival, health and development can be better assured.





DiarrhoeaKey messages:

A child with diarrhoea needs plenty of the right liquids — breastmilk and ORS (oral rehydration salts) solution – and, if older than 6 months, other nutritious liquids and foods should be added.

Zinc should be given to reduce the severity of the diarrhoea.

If the diarrhoea is mixed with blood or is frequent and watery, the child is in danger and should be taken to a trained health worker for immediate treatment.



1. Diarrhoea kills children by draining liquid from the body, which dehydrates the child. As soon as diarrhoea starts, it is essential to give the child extra fluids along with regular foods and fluids.
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2. A child's life is in danger if she or he has several watery stools within an hour or if there is blood in the stool. Immediate help from a trained health worker is needed.

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3. Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life and continued breastfeeding after six months can reduce the risks associated with diarrhoea. Immunization against rotavirus (where recommended and available) reduces deaths from diarrhoea caused by this virus. Vitamin A and zinc supplementation can reduce the risk of diarrhoea.

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4. A child with diarrhoea needs to continue eating regularly. While recovering, she or he needs to be offered more food than usual to replenish the energy and nourishment lost due to the illness.

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5. A child with diarrhoea should receive oral rehydration salts (ORS) solution and a daily zinc supplement for 10–14 days. Diarrhoea medicines are generally ineffective and can be harmful.

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6. To prevent diarrhoea, all faeces, including those of infants and young children, should be disposed of in a latrine or toilet or buried.

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7. Good hygiene practices and use of safe drinking water protect against diarrhoea. Hands should be thoroughly washed with soap and water or a substitute, such as ash and water, after defecating and after contact with faeces, and before touching or preparing food or feeding children.

Supporting Information


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27 June, 2014

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