Is it flu, cold, or gastroenteritis?

Posted:  Tuesday, January 30, 2018 - 6:00pm

This year’s influenza strain is affecting a significant number of people in every U.S. state. According to a report on National Public Radio last weekend, those 65 and older are the highest number contracting the flu and, when they get it, it is severe. The second highest number is the 50-64 year-old range, with young children the third highest group.

According to NPR, this flu season is one of the most severe, comparable to the 2014-2015 season. Why? It’s the strain of flu, then and this year: H3N2, and it’s beastly. Just ask anyone you know who’s had it. 

We’ve all heard the daily updates on the news about the number of fatalities and hospitalizations due to this nasty bug followed by the recommendation to get a flu shot. And, yes, we’ve all heard that many of those being severely affected by the flu had a flu shot. So, why bother? Here’s why, beyond the “some protection is better than none” line: Flu shots help combat the flu’s complications which include pneumonia, bronchitis, and sinus and ear infections; having the flu can exacerbate conditions such as asthma, congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The older members of the population being the hardest hit (sorry fellow Baby Boomers, but we are seniors now) are better protected with one of the two vaccines developed for them: the “Fluzone High-Dose,” which packs four times the antigens than the standard flu shot and creates more antibodies; and “Fluad,” which facilitates stronger immune system responses should the person contract the flu.

People in the hardest hit age groups and those with chronic health conditions can be prescribed Relenza or Tamiflu. The latter is approved for use by little ones just two weeks old as well as preventing flu in people 1 year of age and older.

Most of us would say we know the difference between a cold, the flu and gastroenteritis (stomach bug/flu) ... but do we? The chart below, from the CDC website, doesn’t include symptoms of the stomach bug, so here they are (from the Mayo Clinic website):  watery diarrhea, abdominal cramping, nausea and/or vomiting.

Symptoms in children: Fast breathing or trouble breathing, bluish skin color, not drinking enough fluids, not wanting to wake up or interact, irritability, doesn't want to be held, flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough fever with a rash. In addition to the above, here are other signs in babies: unable to eat, trouble breathing, no tears when crying, and fewer wet diapers than usual.

From the CDC website - Adult symptoms

Signs and Symptoms



Symptom onset




Usual; lasts 3-4 days



Usual; often severe



Fairly common


Fatigue, weakness






Stuffy nose



Sore throat



Chest discomfort, cough

Common; can be severe

Mild to moderate; hacking cough




If you get the flu, stay home. Rest. Drink fluids. See your doctor. And, hang in there!