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Oct 05

Stomach Flu, Common Cold and Influenza Disease

“Just the facts ma’am”

The influenza disease, or Flu, affects the upper respiratory system. Flu symptoms can vary, but are often similar to the common cold. The major exception is relatively high fevers which are almost always present in cases of the flu, but rarely in adults who have a common cold.

The Flu is caused by an infection of the body with an influenza virus. What is commonly referred to as “cold and flu season” is not actually caused by changes in the weather. It is merely that time of year when we increase indoor activities which brings close contact among large groups people, predominately, children and adults in school settings.

There are close to 200 different viruses that cause an illness. Some of the more common viruses are; the rhinovirus, corona virus or influenza virus. Stomach flu is caused by an infection with the norovirus. Although the names are similar “the flu” signs and symptoms (other than headache and fever) are quite different from those associated with the stomach flu.

The common symptoms for stomach Flu (norovirus) are; nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain. Stomach Flu is sometimes referred to as gastroenteritis and symptoms appear suddenly and usually last less than three days. Flu symptoms can last for as long as ten days, usually beginning with fever, body aches and chills and ending with cold-like symptoms (runny or stuffy nose, dry cough, sore throat, etc.).

Flu, stomach flu and the common cold are all contagious viral diseases that can be transmitted from person to person by close contact, touching contaminated surfaces or eating contaminated food. Avoidance is common sense, but let’s list them anyway.

  • avoiding close contact with those who are obviously sick,
  • washing hands after touching public surfaces
  • keeping the hands away from the mouth, nose and eyes.

Antibiotics are useless because these are all viral infections. So, a visit to the doctor is usually unnecessary. The obvious exception is:

  • an unusually high or prolonged fever
  • symptoms of bacterial infection
  • other serious complications

Bronchitis or pneumonia may be indicated by a cough that produces mucus.

Ear infection may be indicated by a pain in the ears.

Sinus infection may be indicated by severe headache, facial pain and pain in the teeth.

For people that are at high risk for developing complications from the Flu should call their doctor within 48 hours of developing symptoms. An anti-viral medication may be necessary to shorten the duration and severity of the Flu signs and symptoms.

The list of people who are at high risk is:

  • people older than 50,
  • nursing home and long-term care residents,
  • people with heart problems, lung disease, diabetes, kidney problems, and sickle cell disease,
  • children who are on an aspirin therapy regimen
  • and anyone who suffers from an impaired immune system, including those who are taking immuno-suppressive drugs.

Women in their second or third trimester of pregnancy also have an increased risk of developing complications from the Flu virus.

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