Researchers in Calgary are testing the effectiveness of a probiotic for treating stomach flu in children.

Kids with stomach flu who arrive at the Alberta Children’s Hospital emergency department will soon have the option of participating in the national research study .

The multi-centre study is the largest of its kind in North America and is examining the effectiveness of a probiotic for gastroenteritis in children.

The study will test nearly 900 children ranging in age from three months to four years.

Over 240,000 children visit Canadian emergency departments with stomach flu symptoms each year. Those symptoms include fever, vomiting and diarrhea.

“Right now, there is little doctors can do for children with gastroenteritis, except to try to minimize the symptoms while the body fights off the infection,” says Dr. Stephen Freedman, the principal investigator of the study and a member of the Alberta Health Services-University of Calgary Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute for Child and Maternal Health. “The theory is that a probiotic agent may have the potential to calm the immune system, allowing it to focus on the infection – with minimal adverse effects to the child.”

Probiotic is the name for any live bacterial agent that is thought to have a beneficial effect.

The study takes a closer look at the effectiveness of a specific probiotic called Lacidofil which has shown promise as a treatment for gastroenteritis in the lab and clinical trials.

Children in the new study will be given either 10 doses of Lacidofil, or a placebo, and then monitored for two weeks to measure the outcomes.

“The goal of the study is to see if the child’s life is made better, especially during the first week after the emergency room visit,” Dr. Freedman says. “We hope that we will find conclusive evidence that the probiotic shortens the length of the illness and gets kids back in daycare or school, and parents back to work.”

In Calgary, about 5 to 6,000 kids visit the Alberta Children’s Hospital emergency department each year with symptoms of stomach flu.

The study will get underway this fall and run for three years.