Did you know the stomach flu isn’t actually the flu? That’s just one of the things you need to know about gastroenteritis, which is the medical term for the so-called ‘stomach flu.’ And since 20 million of us get it every year, here are the facts:

  • If it isn’t the flu – what is it? It’s a family of viruses that infect us and they spread through the ‘fecal-oral route,’ which is just as gross as it sounds. Basically viruses from infected waste matter find their way into our mouths. It could be from touching common surfaces, like an elevator button or handrail. An unlike a regular flu virus, the stomach bug is hardy and can survive on surfaces for days. Plus, it takes very few particles to get infected – which is why it spreads so easily.
  • More often than not, a bout of the stomach flu comes from the food we eat. That’s why there are always signs in restaurants saying, “Employees must wash their hands!” But gastroenteritis is NOT the same as food poisoning, although some of the effects are the same. Food poisoning comes from food contaminated with bacteria – like salmonella or E.coli. Gastroenteritis comes from a virus. But unlike a real flu virus, you can’t get vaccinated. There is no ‘stomach flu shot.’
  • The biggest worry with the stomach flu is dehydration. But doctors say you shouldn’t just drink water – you should drink something like Pedialyte – to replace the sodium, potassium and other minerals you’re losing. But don’t grab a sports drink – although it’ll replace the electrolytes, all the sugar can make your diarrhea and vomiting worse.
  • The stomach flu will typically get better on its own – it’s called “self-limiting” – which means, it makes its way through your system quickly. That’s why you can feel like death-warmed-over one day, and go back to work the next.