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Flu, Stomach Flu, Cold, COVID…How are They Similar?  How Do They Differ? 

That’s an ugly list of diseases. However, only one of them is preventable. We have an effective flu vaccine, and we want you to understand why it’s important to use it. This is the second in our series of articles explaining the what, why and how of flu shots. Our topic today: what are all these diseases and how can I distinguish among them?

Q.     What is the flu?

A.     “Flu” is shorthand for “influenza.” It’s a highly contagious and sometimes deadly disease that attacks the respiratory system — nose, throat and lungs. Unlike the other diseases in our headline list, this one has a season, which runs from October 1 through April 1. Children, older adults and those who are immunocompromised are most likely to get this disease. Good news: of all the diseases listed in the headline of this article, only influenza has an effective vaccine.

Q.     What is the stomach flu?

A.     “Stomach flu” is really not the flu at all. It is a colloquial or slang name for gastroenteritis. This is the disease that attacks your intestines, and usually comes with a high fever, vomiting and diarrhea. Anyone can get it, at any time, and there is no vaccine for it. The biggest risk is dehydration. Although it’s definitely not fun, it’s usually not fatal if you keep enough fluids in your system.

Q.     What is a cold?

A.     The common cold is still…well…common. It’s that nasty, contagious thing that gives you horrible head congestion, often accompanied by a low-grade fever. Fortunately, it’s also something that usually goes away on its own in seven days or so. Occasionally a cold may morph into something else, like bronchitis or pneumonia, but that is not too common. For most people, a cold is just an annoyance.

Q.     What is COVID-19?

A.     We all know that COVID-19 is a virus that attacks the respiratory system. Its symptoms are very similar to those of influenza. It is highly communicable and has a significant mortality rate.

Q.     If I’m sick, how do I know which one of these I might have?

A.     These diseases share many of the same symptoms. Your best bet is always to call your primary care provider if you have questions. However, here are some of the symptoms that might help you decide when or if to make that call:

  • Congestion: If you have a runny/stuff nose and are sneezing, you most likely have a cold. Drink plenty of water, rest, and take something over the counter to help reduce the congestion if that makes you feel better. A little Tylenol should help if you have a low-grade fever. You should start to see improvement in 2-3 days and feel mostly recovered in a week.
  • Vomiting/diarrhea; If these are two of your primary symptoms, it’s highly likely that you have gastroenteritis (“stomach flu”). Eat very small amounts of bland food, drink plenty of water or fluids like Gatorade that contain electrolytes, and take Tylenol for your fever. You should start feeling better within 2-3 days.
  • Fever: If you have a low-grade fever (less than 100 in adults), you probably have a cold. If your fever is higher than 100, and you have some of the other distinguishing symptoms such as chills, body aches or headache, you might have influenza or COVID. A high fever that lasts more than a couple of days should prompt a call to the doctor.
  • Shortness of breath and/or loss of taste/smell: These are typical COVID symptoms. If you have them, you should call your primary care physician right away.

NOCHS Offers Multiple Ways to Get Your Flu Shot

It’s hard to think about yet another health hazard lurking on the horizon. However, influenza (or “flu”) season officially begins October 1, and runs through early April. Fortunately, we know this particular illness is coming, and we have an effective vaccine and multiple ways for you to schedule an appointment to receive one.

Dunewood Pharmacy’s Walk-In Clinic

When: Normal business hours. Monday-Friday, 8:00 am to 6:00 pm. Saturday, 9:00 am to 12:00 pm.
Location: Dunewood Pharmacy, 1445 Sheldon Road, Grand Haven
Bring: Your ID and Insurance Card

Dunewood Pharmacy’s Drive-Up Clinic
By appointment only, call 616.842.5193 to schedule.

When: Thursday, October 1 & 15, 1:00-4:00 pm
Location: Dunewood Pharmacy, 1445 Sheldon Road, Grand Haven
Bring: Your ID and Insurance Card

Community Flu Clinics
By appointment only, please call 616.847.5671 to schedule.

When: Thursday, October 15, 10:00 AM – 12:00 PM
Location: Spring Lake District Library, 123 E. Exchange Street, Spring Lake
Bring: Your ID and Insurance Card

When: Thursday, October 22, 10:00 AM – 12:00 PM
Location: Coopersville Area Public School (CAPS) Community Center Building, 198 East Street, Coopersville
Bring: Your ID and Insurance Card

If you are not insured, there will be an out-of-pocket cost for the flu shot. Please ask us about pricing.

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