The City of Cape Town has appealed to parents to be alert after more than 7,500 cases of diarrhoea in children, younger than five, were reported over November and December 2023.
The period between November and May is dubbed Surge Season, as it coincides with an increase in diarrheal disease.
The City says the heat experienced of late is further cause for vigilance, as young children are particularly vulnerable from dehydration associated with diarrhoea. If not treated timeously, it can be fatal.
There has been a 40% increase in cases of diarrhoea in children younger than five at all health facilities in the metropole over November and December 2023 – compared to the same period the year before.
The City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Community Services and Health, Councillor Patricia van der Ross says at the first sign of diarrhoea, parents need to start using an oral rehydration solution immediately, and seek medical help.
Handwashing and hygiene are always important, but become even more critical over the warmer months to prevent the spread of germs. And we need to be cognisant, always, of how we handle food, because it can spoil a lot quicker in the heat. Let’s work together and keep surge season top of mind, particularly where our young children are concerned.
The World Health Organisation has these key rules for safer food, namely:
- Keep hands, surfaces and utensils used for food preparation including baby bottles and teats , clean.
- Wash hands thoroughly after using the toilet and after changing the child’s nappies.
- Wash hands often while cooking and preparing baby feeds as well as before eating and feeding young children.
- Separate raw and cooked: Store raw and cooked food in separate containers and use separate utensils and equipment for raw and cooked food.
- Cook thoroughly: Cook all foods thoroughly and reheat to piping hot before serving.
- Keep food at safe temperatures: Store and thaw foods in the fridge.
- Use safe water and raw materials: Use safe water, fresh fruit, vegetables and pasteurised milk. Store water in a container that has a tap. If not available, use a clean bucket with a lid.
The City says in the event that a child develops loose stools, it is advised to administer an oral rehydration solution immediately:
- Add half a level teaspoon of salt and eight level teaspoons of sugar to one litre of cooled water that has been boiled.
- Start giving the child small sips of the solution to replace the water and electrolytes lost in the faeces/stool.
- Take the child to your nearest clinic immediately so that the healthcare workers can help to prevent severe dehydration.
- Symptoms of dehydration include passing little urine, dry mouth, few tears when crying, sunken eyes and weakness.
- Symptoms of severe dehydration are drowsiness, pale/mottled skin, cold hands or feet, dry nappies, fast and shallow breathing.