People commonly use one word–“flu”—to describe two completely different medical conditions.  “Flu” is actually influenza while “stomach flu” can refer to a number of different viruses causing similar symptoms. The two illnesses are distinctly different, as is the treatment for them.

Influenza is a seasonal viral illness with the “flu” season being from approximately October to March.  Influenza, while common, is a serious disease which can be deadly for the elderly, the very young, and people with compromised immune systems.  For the rest of us, influenza is just a very unpleasant illness.  The symptoms are more severe and debilitating than the common cold.  Crushing headaches, body aches, high fevers, sweating and chills, and severe nausea and vomiting are common.  Influenza can also affect the respiratory system and give you sinus pain, a sore throat and terrible coughs.  These symptoms last anywhere from 3 to 7 days and it usually takes at least a week to feel “back to normal.”

The providers at ZipClinic Urgent Care can help with influenza by ruling out other illnesses and giving you the correct diagnosis.  There are also medications that we can prescribe that shorten the duration of “the flu.”  In order to be effective, these medications, namely zanamivir (Relenza) and oseltamivir (Tamiflu), must be started within 48 hours of your first symptoms.  We can also prescribe anti-nausea medications.  Because influenza is so severe, it weakens your immune system making you vulnerable to other illnesses such as bronchitis or pneumonia.  It is important to stay home while you have “the flu,” to protect both yourself and others around you.  A trip seeking medical care at ZipClinic should be the limit of your activities.  You can prevent catching influenza by getting your yearly flu shot.  The influenza virus changes each year, so you must remain up-to-date with your vaccination in order to be protected.

The stomach flu, on the other hand, cannot be prevented with a vaccination and operates differently.   There is actually not just one “stomach flu” virus but the condition can be caused by a number of viruses including rotaviruses, adenoviruses, and the Norwalk virus.  Thankfully, it is typically shorter than influenza, lasting only 1-3 days.  The symptoms are also severe, but are generally limited to your gastrointestinal tract.  They include severe nausea and vomiting, intestinal cramps, diarrhea and severe fatigue.  While the severe symptoms only last a short time, it make take up to 2 weeks for your system to fully recover.  At Zip Clinic, we can help by giving you the correct diagnosis.  While there is no medication that can shorten the duration of the stomach flu, we can prescribe medications to help with nausea, intestinal cramping and diarrhea, making the symptoms less severe.

We can also help by suggesting a treatment plan.  Generally speaking, you should try to remain well hydrated while resting your irritated stomach and intestine.  With the help of anti-nausea medications, you should be able to keep down liquids such as Gatorade, Pedialyte, broth, and flat ginger ale.  It is important to only take small sips of liquid at a time in order to not overwhelm your stomach and to not drink anything acidic such as coffee or citrus juices.  Ask your clinician before taking any over-the-counter medications as some may further irritate your stomach.  It is especially important to seek medical attention if your symptoms are particularly severe, last longer than 3 days, or are generally getting worse rather than better.  You should also see a clinician if there is blood in your vomit or stool.

For both of these illnesses, the best prevention is frequent hand washing.  It is especially important to wash your hands before eating or drinking to keep germs out of your intestinal system.  Thorough hand washing requires hot water, soap, and paying attention to your palms, under your nails, and between your fingers for at least 20 seconds (or the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday).  You may also use an alcohol based hand sanitizer to keep germs at bay.  This alone can save you from having to go through the pains of influenza or the stomach flu.

ZipClinic Urgent Care provides walk-in, extended hours service for most minor medical conditions in Denver, Aurora, and Westminster, Colorado; Bozeman and Belgrade, Montana; and Bowling Green, Kentucky.  Most insurance plans are accepted and no appointment is ever needed.