Uh-oh. You wake up at 4am with stomach cramps, nausea, and feeling flushed. A few minutes later, you’re kneeling before the Porcelain Altar, retching up your guts. Then just as you’re hoping the worst is over, you feel your bowels clench, and you start The Dance of the Toilet Bowl and Trash Can as everything in your intestinal tract makes for the nearest exit, like some kind of demon-possessed Pushmi-pullyu.
Now, real quick: when you sign in at the Urgent Care, what do you call your symptoms?
Did you say “Stomach Flu”? Well, sorry to inform you, Mr. Ralph Thunderpants, but you’re wrong. It’s not the flu at all.
The word “flu" is short for "influenza”, which is a respiratory virus which doesn’t exist in the intestinal tract. Your case of Rainbow-Yawns plus Hershey-Squirts (or as we doctors call it, "acute gastroenteritis") (although there is nothing CUTE about it, haha!) is most likely being caused by other viruses (like norovirus or rotavirus), or a non-viral organism.
"But Dr. Cranquis," you groan out, "Why are you getting so worked up about an innocent term? And would you please stop waving that half-full emesis basin around to emphasize your point?"
Here’s why: Because most people take this “stomach flu” misnomer one step further, and just call it “The Flu”…
"I had the flu yesterday, but it’s gone now."
"Well my son had the flu last week."
"Why yes, I’ve had the flu before."
And THAT causes all sorts of confusion. When a doctor hears the phrase “The Flu,” we think “influenza”, which is a whole different beast, with much more serious implications for your health and the health of the general public around you.
So please, don’t label your Acute Crapatoric Pukeitis “the flu.” Go with something simple, like “stomach bug” or “my guts are trying to kill me.” We’ll know what you mean.
Now stop retching on my shoes, please.