As the holiday season winds down and the winter months drag on, we find ourselves in the heart of cold and flu season. When the sniffles strike, it can be difficult to determine if you should take the day off and sleep or see the doctor. While there may be overlap in the symptoms, there are a few telltale signs that will allow you to determine whether you have the flu, the common cold, or a stomach virus.

What is the Stomach Flu?
Let’s start with what is commonly known as the stomach flu, better defined as viral gastroenteritis. The stomach flu arises when your intestines become inflamed and irritated and is highly contagious. While infected, you will likely experience stomach pain, vomiting or diarrhea, muscle aches and mild headaches which will usually last between seven and ten days. While there is no quick fix for stomach flu, do your best to rest and stay hydrated. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, as well as anything with high dairy or fat. Dehydration is the greatest threat to your body during your recovery, so get yourself to a doctor if you begin to feel lightheaded, experience rapid heart rate, notice a decrease in urination, or darker color of urine.

Is it Just a Cold?
What if you don’t have any of the symptoms of stomach flu but are still feeling miserable? Then you may have contracted influenza (flu) or the common cold. Although there are numerous overlapping symptoms between the common cold and the flu, the common cold is usually less severe, sets in more gradually, and the body is normally capable of healing on its own without a visit to the doctor. Although both the flu and common cold will likely give you a sore throat, stuffy nose, and sneezing, the flu is more likely to bring with it a high fever, headache, chills, and muscle aches or weakness. If you develop any of these symptoms, then it is time to go to the doctor for a flu test and medication. If you have contracted the flu, a longer recovery period will be required.

Differences between Influenza A and B
The flu viruses are categorized into two strains: influenza A and influenza B. Different age groups are more likely to acquire a certain strain, and some strains are more severe than others. Influenza A is associated with both bird flu and swine flu and is the only one which can cause a pandemic. Influenza A mutates quickly, making it one of the fastest moving viruses and difficult to control, which is why a new vaccine is required every year to combat it. Both influenza A and B are highly contagious and can infect people from as far as six feet. Once a person develops symptoms, it is crucial that they remain as isolated as possible for the first three to four days, as this is when they will be most contagious.

Get Your Recommended Flu Vaccine
Let’s say you’d like to avoid the flu altogether this year, then your best shot is to get the flu vaccine before you come into contact with a contagious person. Though we recommend that you get your shot before the end of October, don’t worry if you’ve waited this long. It isn’t too late. Flu season commonly peaks between December and February, but can last as late as May, and influenza can be contracted at any time during the year.

Preventing the Flu
As influenza is a potentially deadly disease with the CDC estimating nearly 56,000 deaths every year from flu or flu-like symptoms, it is important to get vaccinated, especially if you are in a high-risk group such as children under two years of age, the elderly, or those with any chronic disease. Since influenza is transmitted from other people, a priority is also placed on vaccinating household contacts of anyone in these high-risk groups, as well as the school-aged population, since they can be the infectious link between households.

The flu vaccine is a simple shot administered by a healthcare professional which protects against the most common variants of the influenza virus for a specific year, which is why it is important to get one every flu season. It is important to remember that the flu vaccine cannot give you the flu. Two weeks after receiving your shot, your body will begin to develop the antibodies that will protect you against the flu. Even if you contract one of the less common variants the flu shot does not protect against, the flu shot will likely shorten your recovery time and result in milder symptoms.

Treating the Flu
If you find yourself potentially suffering from the flu, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, visit HealthLinc to get tested and possibly receive antiviral medication if you are within the 48-hour window. Stay inside, away from anyone you could infect, get plenty of rest, drink fluids, and treat the symptoms with over-the-counter medications as needed. For most of us, the flu is similar to a really bad cold, but it is best to be prepared every year with proper medical care and vaccinations.

At HealthLinc, we are invested in the communities we serve. Our highly educated and experienced providers will care for you and your family. We’ll work to help you stay healthy and care for you when you’re sick or injured. With a team-based approach, we focus on treating you as a whole person and offer a variety of services at each of our locations.