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One day your stomach turns queasy and before you know it, you feel awful. You’re nauseated, a little feverish and you can’t seem to escape the bathroom—and all these symptoms leave you feeling tired, thirsty and just plain terrible. You sleep for hours. “I’ve got the flu,” you moan to a friend, “the worst case of the flu I can ever remember.”
Except, you don’t actually have the flu, or influenza. You likely have what’s officially called viral gastroenteritis, better known as the stomach flu. It can be hard to know the difference between the two because some of the symptoms are confusingly close. “It’s important to figure out which one you have, because your treatment and recovery plan to get back to health is different with each,” says Dr. Linda Pourmassina, a product physician for 98point6.
With influenza, your temperature could well be scorching compared to the stomach flu, and you’ll feel really tired, possibly for weeks. Your head might be harboring the mother of all headaches, and Antarctic-worthy chills may rack your body. If diagnosed within the first two days after symptoms start, a physician at 98point6 or elsewhere can chat with you about an antiviral medication. The medication won’t cure you, but it can help shorten the course of the illness by a few days and dial back the symptoms, making it easier to bear—and possibly prevent some complications.
“People over 65 and anyone with chronic conditions such as asthma or diabetes are more at risk for serious complications, including pneumonia,” says Dr. Pourmassina. “That makes it especially important for anyone in these groups to chat with a physician if they think they have the flu.”
With the stomach flu, symptoms can include nausea, stomach cramps, vomiting and diarrhea. Usually, it only takes a few days after a bout of the stomach flu to bounce back. Sadly, antiviral medications won’t help.
You’ll feel better faster if you drink fluids like sports drinks or coconut water and eat bland foods like bananas, rice, applesauce and plain toast. Dr. Pourmassina adds that “it’s important not to start eating dairy products too soon after getting sick. Even when you’re feeling better, they can be hard for your digestive system to process.”
Worried about passing on either kind of flu to someone else? First, it’s good to know how long you’re contagious. With influenza, you’re contagious for roughly one day before symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after becoming sick. With the stomach flu, doctors say the time you can pass it on to someone else runs from the day before you develop symptoms for up to two weeks after becoming sick.
An easy action plan to protect your friends and family
Still unsure which type of flu has got you down? Start chatting with a 98point6 doctor now and get answers to all your flu questions.