Open Accessibility Menu
Hide

Influenza vs Stomach Flu: What you need to know

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.

CCH Kate Craig, RNInfluenza, 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 of norovirus.

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).

To learn more about how to protect yourself from the flu, visit www.cchwyo.org/flu411, click here to see a flyer.