Seunga (Jasmine) Han, PharmD Student
“I think I have the flu.”
“My doctor said I just have a cold.”
“I don’t think I can come in today… I think I have the stomach flu.”
Do these phrases sound familiar to you? At one point in your life, it’s likely that you’ve heard one of these comments before. The question is: are they all the same thing, or is there a difference between them? Today, we’ll discuss the differences between these three to develop a better understanding of these common conditions.
What is the “flu”?
What we call the “flu” also goes by another name – influenza. Influenza is basically a viral infection that affects our nose, throat and lungs, which make up our respiratory tract. In Canada, we often experience the flu during the winter months, which coincide with the annual flu season. You can check out our previous article, where we discuss more in detail about influenza and the flu shot.
As discussed in the aforementioned article, this infection is caused by the extremely contagious influenza virus and causes symptoms such as sudden high fever, muscle aches, cough, sore throat, runny nose, poor appetite, and fatigue.
So, how is the flu any different than the common “cold”?
I do admit that there is some overlap between symptoms of the flu and the common cold, but it’s important to understand that they’re very different infections. Although they’re both viral infections, the common cold is not caused by the influenza virus, but by other viruses such as rhinovirus, coronavirus, and adenovirus.
Unlike the flu or influenza, the common cold CANNOT be prevented with immunization.
While there are overlapping symptoms (e.g. fever and cough) between the two, the symptoms of the common cold appear more gradually. Additionally, symptoms such as headaches, chills, aches, pains, and fatigue rarely occur in the common cold.
What about the stomach flu?
The stomach flu is most commonly caused by norovirus. Just like the flu, the symptoms occur quite quickly, but they usually involve the gastrointestinal system – hence the name “stomach flu”.
It’s often spread through contaminated food or water and causes symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, stomach pain or cramps, diarrhea, fever, and muscle aches. These symptoms generally last about 1-3 days.
What’s important to note is that the symptoms of the stomach flu are extremely generalized, and many different infections or conditions can result in similar symptoms. These may include food poisoning, traveller’s diarrhea, or even chronic conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease.
When should I see my doctor?
As a general rule of thumb, if your symptoms are severe or persist beyond a few days, you should speak to your physician, pharmacist, or primary care provider. Since all of these infections are caused by viruses, NONE of these infections can be treated with antibiotics!
We hope you took away something valuable from this piece. If you have any questions or concerns regarding this article or others, feel free to reach out to us on Instagram, Facebook, or at firstname.lastname@example.org with your feedback. We’d love to hear from you.
- Influenza. (2017, September 1). Retrieved September 10, 2018, from https://myhealth.alberta.ca/Alberta/Pages/influenza-symptoms-faqs.aspx
- Public Health Agency of Canada. (2018, March 06). Canadian Immunization Guide Chapter on Influenza and Statement on Seasonal Influenza Vaccine for 2017–2018. Retrieved September 10, 2018, from https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/healthy-living/canadian-immunization-guide-statement-seasonal-influenza-vaccine-2017-2018.html#new
- Alberta Health Services. (n.d.). Influenza Immunization. Retrieved September 10, 2018, from https://www.albertahealthservices.ca/influenza/influenza.aspx
- Norovirus infection. (2017, November 17). Retrieved September 10, 2018, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/norovirus/symptoms-causes/syc-20355296