Stomach flu and influenza are two different illnesses and have no similarity. Stomach flu is a popular term for viral gastroenteritis but it should not be confused with influenza.
There are different types of stomach flu viruses which cause an inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, resulting in symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and ache, muscle ache, low grade fever, headache and chills, which may lead to dehydration. The common viruses which cause stomach flu are the Rotavirus, Caliciviruses, Adenovirus and Astrovirus. These incubate and multiply in the stomach and the intestine and thus cause the symptoms of stomach flu or viral gastroenteritis.
Influenza, on the other hand is a viral infection of the respiratory tract. The types of virus which cause the flu are known as Influenza A and Influenza B viruses. The body is infected by these viruses when they spread through the upper and/or lower respiratory tract. The symptoms of influenza include fever, fatigue, headache and a respiratory congestion. These are accompanied by a cough and body ache. These symptoms come on quite abruptly and they mimic the symptoms of a common cold.
The influenza viruses are prevalent in droplets in the air and when these are inhaled they infect the respiratory tract. The flu virus can spread from one person to the other when drinks or utensils are shared with an infected person. Direct contact with respiratory secretions cause contamination and spread the virus. The flu virus may be present on a person’s skin and it can cause an infection when the eyes, nose or mouth are rubbed with infected hands.
The most common symptoms of stomach flu
The most common symptom of stomach flu is diarrhea, watery stools and vomiting. Body fluids are lost through these symptoms and the patient may get dehydrated. Stomach flu should not be treated through medication. Anti diarrhea medication should be avoided as they can cause the symptoms to last longer and they can also have side effects.
The symptoms of dehydration should be treated by keeping the patient on a diet of fluids for a day or two. Initially during episodes of frequent vomiting, the patient should be given only sips of water and made to suck on ice chips. As the condition improves, fluids such as herbal tea, non citrus fruit juices and clear broth can be given. Yoghurt is also beneficial in treating cases of stomach flu. Gradually a soft bland diet which is easy to digest should be introduced. Certain foods such as milk and dairy products, citrus fruits which could be acidic, spicy and fatty foods, carbonated drinks, caffeine and alcohol should be avoided.
Influenza can be treated through rest and plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. The fever and muscle ache could be treated through paracetamols and aspirin. A cough can be treated with a cough syrup. A light diet with broths and steamed or boiled food would be advisable. Sometimes the influenza can become severe and should be treated with anti viral medication according to the physician’s prescription. Antibiotics cannot treat influenza as it is caused by a virus and not bacteria. Very severe cases of influenza can possibly lead to pneumonia. People can be protected against the strains of influenza with yearly vaccines.
Stomach flu virus affects the gastrointestinal tract and the influenza virus affects the respiratory tract. Both these viruses can be contracted in crowded places like schools, camps, daycare facilities, dormitories, military barracks, hospitals and even in the household.
How to avoid influenza and stomach flu
To prevent and limit the spread of both the stomach flu and the influenza virus, hygiene should be maintained. Hands should be washed with warm water and soap to prevent contamination. Utensils, kitchen and bathroom surfaces should be disinfected. A person who has influenza should be careful and cough into a handkerchief to prevent the infection from spreading to those around him. It is best to rest at home till recovery.
Stomach flu and influenza can both be treated at home and medical intervention should be sought only when the condition worsens.