Flu vs. Stomach Flu
During winter, the word “flu” is frequently tossed about, whether a person has actually been infected with the influenza virus or been stricken with the “stomach flu.” What many do not realize, however, is these are two completely different, unrelated illnesses. By understanding the differences, you can be better equipped to treat symptoms, prevent spreading to others, and know when to seek medical assistance.
What is the “Flu?”
The flu itself is the illness caused by the influenza virus. The virus mainly results in upper respiratory issues, such us coughing, congestion, body aches, fever and fatigue. It is typically seasonal through fall and winter, and symptoms tend to come on suddenly and last from 2 to 10 days. Most people will recover without issues, but some serious complications can develop, such as pneumonia, that require medical intervention. The flu virus can be dangerous for those considered “high-risk,” including young children, pregnant women, and elderly adults.
Because the illness is caused by a virus, there isn’t a cure or specific treatment for influenza. Much of the treatment provided is simply to alleviate the discomfort from associated symptoms. An antiviral medication may be prescribed to lessen the severity and shorten the duration, but only if you are diagnosed within the first 48 hours of the start of symptoms.
The best way to protect yourself from the flu is to receive a vaccination each year prior to peak flu season. If you do happen to contract the virus, keep your distance from others and stay home as much as possible. Of course, be sure to cover your coughs and sneezes, wash your hands frequently, avoid touching your face, and generally practice healthy habits.
What is the “Stomach Flu?”
The stomach flu, as it is often called, is not related to the influenza virus. Technically, the illness is referred to as gastroenteritis and is caused by norovirus, rotavirus, or bacterial food poisoning. Common symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramping, and occasionally, a fever. The vomiting usually will last no more than 24 hours, but diarrhea may continue for a few days.
Because of the symptoms, the biggest complication that may occur with gastroenteritis is dehydration, which can be dangerous for young children, the elderly, and those with other health conditions. If you are unable to keep fluids down and vomiting frequently, contact your physician. While vomiting and diarrhea are possible to experience with influenza, these symptoms are quite rare and are more common in children.
The norovirus that causes gastroenteritis spreads quickly and easily, so taking care to avoid passing to others is important. If you are ill, you are most contagious when symptoms are present and within the first few days after you feel you have recovered. Unfortunately, even then, it is still possible to spread the illness for two weeks or more. Ensure you are washing your hands thoroughly and frequently. If you handle others’ food, take care to properly wash everything and cook food thoroughly. Clean and disinfect surfaces in your home with bleach-based products, and wash laundry right away with detergent and hot water.
While the illnesses are quite different in terms of cause and symptoms, most would agree that avoiding both is ideal. Unfortunately, even with our best efforts, viruses and bacteria find their way into our systems. For most healthy individuals, the immune system’s natural response in fighting the illness is enough to get through, but if the symptoms become too much, or the sickness worsens, visit our office right away for the treatment and relief your body needs.