Stomach Flu


There is a run on gastroenteritis in our area.

Lately, it seems as if about half of the patients coming into the emergency department have some combination of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps. School attendance has dropped by 15%.

I cringe when people call gastroenteritis the “stomach flu.”  You can call it whatever you want, but just because the name that you choose to give to your symptoms has the word “flu” in it does not mean that it will get better with Tamiflu. Two different diseases. So demanding Tamiflu for your vomiting and diarrhea will do just about as much good as ingesting artichoke leaves. Only the Tamiflu will set you back about $100. Tamiflu only works for influenza. It does not work for “stomach flu” gastroenteritis.

The most common symptoms in influenza are fever, cough, sore throat, headache and body aches. Yes, some people also have vomiting and diarrhea with influenza, but those symptoms rarely occur in the absence of the others.

Plenty of fluids, medications such as Zofran and Imodium to relieve symptoms, and a bland diet are about all we can do until the disease runs its course. The symptoms usually last a few days and then resolve. Most often, outbreaks of gastroenteritis are caused by Norovirus, but other viruses may also be to blame.

The WhiteCoat household didn’t escape the wrath of the stomach flu this year. Two of my four kids have been home yesterday and today. Even though I felt bad for her, it was kind of funny when my 7 year old daughter came into my office yesterday and made the following statement:

“Dad, I don’t mean to alarm you, but I have pee coming out of my butt.”

No, honey, that’s diarrhea. Let’s go get you some Tamiflu.


  1. Just as an aside, the comment in the last sentence about getting Tamiflu was a joke. As in I was kidding. I already had an e-mail asking me why I was giving Tamiflu for diarrhea.
    I know. I know. Don’t quit my day jobs, right?

  2. I’m so happy I haven’t vomited in 14 years, but I still remember how bad it tastes and how it’s like choking going the opposite way. I’m surprised your daughter didn’t complain about stomach pains before complaining about “pee coming out”, since for me at least that’s usually the last round.

    • As a connoisseur of gastroenteritis (I grew up in the third world – paratyphoid, amoebiasis and the rest of that gang are old friends), I can assure you that pain does not always precede the colon deciding to empty itself.

      Often pain didn’t start until after several hours of unbalancing electrolytes. Which was occasionally a problem when caught several hours from home by public transportation. And any restrooms encountered in between were guaranteed to not have luxuries like toilet paper.

      My recollection is that the usual treatment I’d receive on the occasions where medical help was sought was a ration of erythromycin (without testing, so probably an even worse abuse than Tamiflu – what if I’d had c. dificile?)

  3. Ah yes, gastroenteritis. I was the queen of that up until my late teens. If I got sick it was vomiting and more vomiting. I got that more often that than plain old colds. Though, we never called it the stomach flu, I think we just called it a “stomach bug.” Actually, now I’m not sure it was gastroenteritis because there was never diarrhea along with the vomiting. I’ve also never had the flu. Is there something wrong with me? And will Tamiflu take care of it?

  4. Poor little ones. Look at it this way…if they had to get it, hopefully it will be over and done with in the household before the holiday. I hope you all are well soon.

  5. “Dad, I don’t mean to alarm you, but I have pee coming out of my butt.”

    Classic! My 3 year old recently dubbed it “bad potty.”

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  7. remember, remember, remember the B.R.A.T. diet when recovering from the vom flu. as i call it. the flora in our bellies literally can become obsolete and the body works even harder at recovering them from the foods we eat. as a supplement after i have had a bought of the stomach flu or issues with the digestive system on that level, i make sure to either take my acidopholus supplement or greek yogurt. non-fat, plain, vanilla or honey if i want flavor. it works miracles. i have lived with gastrointestinal issues for ages and i love my yogurt and live acidopholus. bactillious bifidous.

  8. The last time that I had gastroenteritis (that was the preliminary dx) it turned out to be Salmonelloses. Then I got to “play” Twenty-Questions with the Health Dept.

  9. I just can’t believe you did not have any patients clamouring to sue the local Chinese or Mexican restaurants for giving them “food poisoning”.

  10. Campylobacter one week before nursing boards in 1981 from a turkey sandwich in the hospital cafeteria. Missed boards, lost 20# (and back then I couldn’t afford to lose 20#) and bought me 7 days in the hospital. When somebody comes in with n/v/d I am not impressed. Ever.

  11. We lived in Ketchikan, AK years ago-that Norovirus times a million ran through our tiny little community one cruise ship season. I have never been so ill-ever-in my life. I’d rather have my wisdom teeth pulled again, or go through unmedicated childbirth than ever ever have that again.

    That was over 10 years ago and I still have PTSD over that.

  12. ITA with “C” (just above me). I had Noro that started 8 days before I was to sit for an advanced certification board exam. The plan HAD been to take a week of PTO to study. I took the week off, for sure, but my only “studying” was of the inside of a commode.

    And like “C”, I would prefer several other health conditions I have endured, including the vag. delivery without meds of a 10 lb + baby boy, several kidney stones, and a dental abcess that eroded into the right frontal sinus and eye orbit. Ok, the dental abcess wins but Noro is a close second. And there was NO way to get confortable and no meds to treat any s/s or allow blissful sleep. I am surprised that outbreaks don’t kill more of our seniors when this virus goes through a long term care facility!

    • …and, yes, I passes, although I recall nothing of the test itself. DH scored big husband points for taking a day off himself to drive me the three hours to the test site, in the cold pouring rain. Ain’t love GRAND!

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