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Do I have the flu or the flu?

When a person refers to the “flu” it can be confusing.  Let’s try to distinguish and clarify the various types of “flu” infections.

Respiratory flu:  This refers to an infection with Influenza A or B that is spread primarily through airborne droplets containing the virus via coughing or sneezing.  The symptoms are abrupt onset of fever, chills, headache, fatigue, and body aches. Other symptoms include severe aches and pains in the joints and around the eyes, generalized weakness, ill appearance with warm, flushed skin and red, watery eyes, dry cough and sore throat from post nasal discharge.  Respiratory flu usually peaks in the winter.  The flu shot (Influenza vaccine) helps prevent this infection.  Also, antiviral medication can be helpful if taken within 48 hours of symptoms.  Other types of respiratory flu are “bird flu” and H1NI/Swine flu that occurred in 2009.  The HINI was included in this years “flu shot.”

Stomach flu:  This is also known as viral gastroenteritis.  The viruses that cause “stomach flu” are Noro virus (Norwalk-like virus), Rotavirus, Astrovirus and enteric adenovirus.  These viruses cause swelling and inflammation of the intestines leading to nausea, vomiting and diarrhea within 4 to 48 hours of exposure through contaminated food or water.  Other symptoms may include chills, clammy skin or sweating, fever, joint stiffness or muscle pain, poor feeding/appetite and weight loss.  The illness usually runs its course in a few days without treatment.  Children may become severely ill from dehydration caused by diarrhea. People with the highest risk for severe gastroenteritis include young children, the elderly, and people who have a suppressed immune system.

There are 2 vaccines to prevent Rotavirus called Rotateq® or Rotarix® that are administered to infants.  There are currently no vaccines available to prevent the other viral gastroenteritis infections. The flu shot for respiratory flu does not work on these stomach/intestinal viruses.

This educational information does not take the place of your physician’s advice.

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