Stomach flu and
influenza are two terms that are often used interchangeably to mean the common flu.
And since influenza results in a weakened immune system, many people experience
other viruses, like the
norovirus, while having the flu. This causes people to associate gastrointestinal
issues with the flu, but the two viruses are very different. Here's
what Campbell County Health's Infection Preventionist Kate Craig,
BSN, RN, wants you to know about the two viruses.
Influenza, or the
flu, is a virus that affects the respiratory tract (nose, throat, and sometimes
lungs) and can cause fever, body aches, chills, cough, congestion, runny
nose and fatigue. Symptoms generally come on very quickly spread easily
from person to person through coughing, sneezing, and even by speaking.
We know that the influenza virus travels six feet from the infected person,
and more than 20 feet with unprotected coughing.
There is no cure for influenza, but there are antiviral medications that
can help you feel better and recover faster. Antibiotics do not work for
flu because antibiotics only kill bacteria, and flu is a virus. Vaccines
can help prevent flu or lessen the severity if you do get it. The influenza
virus is very good at changing what it “looks” like, which
is why scientists have not been able to make a flu vaccine that works
perfectly all the time.
While it is possible for influenza to cause symptoms like vomiting and
diarrhea, there is no such thing as the “stomach flu”. Sometimes
children will have vomiting and diarrhea with influenza, but it rarely
occurs in adults. It is more likely that those symptoms are caused by
a virus or bacteria that affects the gut. This is called
gastroenteritis. Depending on the bug, it can be very contagious. Usually when someone
says they have the “stomach flu”, they actually have norovirus,
which is not related to influenza at all. It can cause nausea, vomiting,
diarrhea and abdominal pain that lasts from one to three days. It is very
contagious while the person has symptoms and for several days after they
feel better. Handwashing is a critical method in preventing the spread
In fact, good
handwashing is the most important step in keeping yourself healthy. Lather up well
with soap and water, or use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol,
to sanitize your hands. Clean your hands before and after eating, after
using the restroom, whenever dirty and before and after taking care of
someone who is sick or frail. If you have respiratory symptoms, protect
others by wearing a mask. Cough or sneeze into the inside of your elbow,
throw away used tissues immediately and clean your hands after any self-care
(like wiping your nose).