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I Got a Flu Shot, So Why Did I Get the Stomach Flu?

Don't Use This as An Excuse to Avoid a Flu Shot


Updated June 18, 2014

The stomach flu isn't really influenza at all.

The stomach flu isn't really influenza at all.

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It arrived in the middle of the night -- that feeling....oh, that feeling. I jumped out of bed, hoping I would make it to the bathroom. Oh, no (oh, yes) -- the stomach flu, a.k.a. the pesky "stomach bug".

You've been there. You know exactly what I'm talking about. You probably even know who you got the stomach bug from. And as contagious as it is, it was probably passed on to someone else before you even knew it.

I'm one of those "learn from every bad experience" kind of people. So, when I finally stopped giving in to that overwhelming need to sleep, I began to think about it. It struck me -- how on earth did I get the stomach flu if I got a flu shot? I get a flu shot every year. How could that happen?

The next day, able to drag myself to my computer, I began to look it up -- and there it was, right in front of me:

The stomach flu is not really the flu. Period. I didn't get the flu. I got a stomach bug.

Why the Stomach Flu Is Not Really THE Flu

According to the CDC, what we call the "stomach flu" is not influenza at all. The stomach flu should really called by its actual name -- gastroenteritis.

Gastroenteritis can be bacterial or viral, caused by such horrible sounding bugs as rotaviruses, noroviruses, adenoviruses or astroviruses. But none of those are influenza.

True influenza, including the seasonal flu we get flu shots for, is also caused by viruses -- just different ones. The seasonal flu viruses actually change from year to year, which is why we have to get a new flu vaccination each year. Other forms of influenza, such as swine flu or avian flu, are caused by specific viruses. Like their seasonal flu cousins, those viruses are not the same as those which cause gastroenteritis.

Why Is it Important to Know That the Stomach Flu Is Not Really Flu?

When you're worshipping that porcelain throne, and your body is wracked with chills, pain and gastrointestinal upset, it probably doesn't make one bit of difference to you whether stomach flu is misnamed.

But if you use this stomach ailment as an excuse not to get a flu shot (because you got a shot one year and ended up with gastroenteritis), then it's very important. Remember -- you didn't get the flu from the flu shot. In truth, you didn't even get gastroenteritis from the flu shot.

Next time you hear about someone who got the "stomach flu," pass the word. The stomach flu is not really flu.

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