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Flu vs. stomach flu - Baptist Health System

Feb 6, 2019

Woman with fluExpert explains the difference, prevention and treatments for both common ailments

SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS - In addition to the common flu this season, there’s another ailment creeping into homes this New Year. Often called the stomach flu, viral gastroenteritis is also quickly causing sick days and frustration.

Jocelyn Juarez, M.D., a hospitalist who practices at Baptist Health System, said although it is referred to as “stomach flu,” viral gastroenteritis and the flu are two different illnesses. “The flu is an upper respiratory illness affecting the nose, throat and lungs and caused by the Influenza virus,” Dr. Juarez said. “The stomach flu is a virus affecting the gastrointestinal system and is caused by coming in contact with an infected person or by ingesting contaminated food or water,” she said. Viral gastroenteritis is common especially after the holidays following family and crowd gatherings.

Most people recover within a few days. But for infants, older adults and people with compromised immune systems, both illnesses can be deadly, reports indicate.

Influenza symptoms

  • Fever or feeling feverish/chills.
  • Cough.
  • Sore throat.
  • Runny or stuffy nose.
  • Muscle or body aches.
  • Headaches.
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
Viral gastroenteritis symptoms
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headache, muscle aches, or joint aches
  • fever or chills
  • Sweating or clammy skin
  • Abdominal cramps and pain
  • Loss of appetite

Keys to prevention and treatment

Dr. Juarez said the best way to prevent both viruses is to wash hands frequently. For the flu, the best prevention is to get the Influenza vaccine every year as early in the season as possible, ideally by late October. The flu vaccine has proven to minimize symptoms and complications in those who become ill with the virus.

For viral gastroenteritis there is no vaccine. But hand hygiene and avoiding people with the virus or contaminated foods are important for prevention. For those who do contract the virus, rest and keeping hydrated to replenish fluids are important to recovery. 

Additional Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

To schedule an interview with Jocelyn Juarez, M.D., a hospitalist who practices at Baptist Health System, contact Natalie Gutierrez or Patti Tanner in the Office of Communications for Baptist Health System.

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