As I’m waiting at the doctor’s office for my girls to get their flu shots, I can hear someone say “I’m not getting a flu shot this year. Last year I ended up with the stomach flu and was sick for two days. A lot of good that did me”. Well, it’s because of comments like this that I’m going to get up on my soapbox and give a brief synopsis about the differences between Influenza, commonly called the Flu; and the stomach flu, which is most often the Norovirus or Rotavirus. They are two very different viruses, with two very different set of symptoms and complications.
The flu, which is actually Influenza, has nothing to do with the stomach in actuality. It’s an upper respiratory illness causing cold-like symptoms, but much worse and more sudden. The symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headaches, body chills and aches, fatigue, and rarely an upset stomach. Influenza is prevented by getting the flu vaccine. We do this because the flu kills thousands of people every year due to severe dehydration, pneumonia, and complications to other preexisting diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. The groups most susceptible are children, elderly, and those with a weakened immune system, though it’s recommended that everyone above the age of six months get one. The 2012 vaccine actually protects us from three different strains of the flu.
The stomach flu, on the other hand, is actually not a “flu” at all. In reality, it’s gastroenteritis and is most often specifically the Norovirus or Rotovirus. These virus’s exhibit symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and sometimes a fever. It generally doesn’t last more than a day or two, but severe dehydration is the main cause of complications associated with the stomach flu.
The only thing the flu and the stomach flu have in common, is that because they are both viruses, antibiotics will do nothing for them. Unfortunately, the only thing you can do is let both run their course, while maintaining hydration to prevent further illness.
I think our health educators need to develop an awareness campaign to explain the differences between the two so that more people get vaccinated, lowering the risks of flu-related deaths and complications. I believe that ignorance plays a large role in whether or not people get the flu vaccine, but if they were properly educated we could drastically cut flu-related deaths and hospitalizations saving us money and heartache.