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Sheryl Kraft

Sheryl Kraft, a freelance writer and breast cancer survivor, was born in Long Beach, New York. She currently lives in Connecticut with her husband Alan and dog Chloe, where her nest is empty of her two sons Jonathan. Sheryl writes articles and essays on breast cancer and contributes to a variety of publications and websites where she writes on general health and wellness issues. She earned her MFA in writing from Sarah Lawrence College in 2005.

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Stomach Flu Myth

The Stomach Flu Myth

Your Health

What more do you really need to know about stomach flu—except that it causes diarrhea, vomiting, stomach cramps, occasional muscle aches, headache and a low-grade fever?

And it makes you feel like … never mind, I won't say that here (but you probably know what I mean).

It would probably surprise a lot of you to know that the stomach flu does not exist.

No, I'm not talking about the symptoms—they're all too real.

I'm talking about the pairing of the words "stomach" and "flu."

There's no such thing as the stomach flu. There's only one kind of flu, and that's the "real" influenza that messes with your upper respiratory system—your nose, throat and lungs—causing a different kind of distress, like coughing, sneezing, congestion, fever, chills, aches and pains.

The correct term for the other ailment is "viral gastroenteritis."

And even though I've known people to joke and say it's the best way they know to lose weight, they don't really mean it (not if they've ever experienced it).

Symptoms of viral gastroenteritis may appear within one to three days after you're infected and run the gamut from mild to severe, usually lasting just a day or two, although sometimes they may last as long as 10 days.

How to Avoid the Bug

How do you catch it? Usually when you eat or drink contaminated food or water or share eating utensils, towels or food with someone who is infected. Especially at risk are older adults (whose immune systems become less efficient with age) and anyone with a weakened immune system.

Aside from lots of hand-washing, keep your distance from people who are infected. It's also wise to disinfect things like doorknobs, counters and faucets with a mixture of two cups of bleach dissolved in one gallon of water. And of course, where possible, avoid sharing contaminated items.

What to Do When the Bug Strikes

Since the main complication is dehydration, remember to drink a lot to replenish the fluids you're losing through vomiting and diarrhea.

Courtesy of the Mayo Clinic, here are other steps you should take while you're down for the count:

  • Let your stomach settle. Stop eating solid foods for a few hours.
  • Try sucking on ice chips or taking small sips of water. You might also try drinking clear soda, clear broths or non-caffeinated sports drinks. Drink plenty of liquid every day, taking small, frequent sips.
  • Ease back into eating. Gradually begin to eat bland, easy-to-digest foods, such as soda crackers, toast, gelatin, bananas, rice and chicken. Stop eating if your nausea returns.
  • Avoid certain foods and substances until you feel better. These include dairy products, caffeine, alcohol, nicotine and fatty or highly seasoned foods.
  • Get plenty of rest. The illness and dehydration may make you weak and tired.
  • Be cautious with medications. Use medications sparingly, if at all. Some medications, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others), can make your stomach more upset. Acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) can cause liver toxicity.

Do I Call the Doc?

When do you need to see your health care professional? You don't, if it's a run-of-the-mill type of thing.

But you do if you can't keep liquids down for 24 hours, you've been vomiting for more than two days (or you're vomiting blood), you notice blood in your bowel movements, you're dehydrated (signs include dry mouth, excessive thirst, severe weakness, dizziness or light-headedness or deep yellow or little or no urine) or your fever climbs above 104 degrees F.

Wishing you all good health in this new year!

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