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Diarrhea facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts

Diarrhea (DIE-uh-REE-uh), also spelled diarrhoea, happens when the body makes more watery feces than normal. Diarrhea can occur in humans as well as most other mammals.


Diarrhea is not a disease. But it may be a symptom of a disease. The most common causes of diarrhea are:

Child death

In developing nations, diarrheal diseases are the second most common cause of death in children under age 5. Every year in the world, diarrhea kills around 760,000 children under age 5.

In developing countries, diarrhea is also one of the most common causes of malnutrition in children under age 5.

Usually, when children die from diarrhea, it is because of dehydration (losing too much water in the body). Because diarrhea is watery, it takes away a lot of the water in the body. It also takes away electrolytes—important salts that the body needs to survive.


In developing countries, diarrhea is usually caused by an infection in the intestines. These infections can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or parasites. These infections spread easily in some developing countries because:

  • Drinking water is not safe. Bacteria, viruses, and parasites often get into the water, which people then have to drink. Anyone who drinks the water can then get an infection that causes diarrhea.
  • Sanitation, like clean toilets, are often not available. This makes it easier for infections to spread.
  • Clean water and soap for washing hands are often not available either. If people cannot wash their hands, bacteria, viruses, or parasites can stay on their hands. Then they can spread them on their hands.

Preventing child deaths

Child deaths from diarrhea can be prevented in different ways.


When a child is sick with diarrhea, the best way to keep them from dying is to rehydrate them (give them the water and electrolytes (salts) they are losing by having diarrhea). If the child can go to a clinic or hospital, this can be done by giving water and salts intravenously (through a needle placed into a vein).

If the child cannot go to a clinic or hospital, oral rehydration solution can be used. ("Oral" means "given by mouth"; a "solution" is a mixture.) Oral rehydration solution is a mixture of the most important things the body loses when it is dehydrated. These things are clean water, salt, and sugar. Some oral rehydration solutions have extra electrolytes, like potassium, in them also.

Some oral rehydration solutions come in packets and just need to be mixed with clean water. Oral rehydration solution can also be made at home. If the water in the area is not safe, it can be boiled to make it safe. (Boiling the water will kill any bacteria, viruses, or parasites in the water.) Salt and sugar are then mixed into the water. Drinking this mixture, after the water cools, will re-hydrate the child, if he drinks enough. Adding a banana or orange juice can add potassium to the mixture.

Breast milk will also re-hydrate a child with diarrhea.

Preventing diarrhea

There are some ways to prevent diarrhea, or the spread of diseases that cause diarrhea. However, some of these ways are expensive and difficult to do. These include:

  • Making drinking water safe
  • Making sanitation better
  • Making clean water and soap available for hand washing

Related pages

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See also

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