Is it the flu or something else?

How can you tell if it was something you ate or if you are coming down with the flu?

Influenza (the flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness and at times can lead to death. Some people, such as older people, young children and people with certain health conditions are at high risk for serious flu complications. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the best way to prevent the flu is by getting vaccinated every year. Other preventative measures include avoiding contact with sick people and washing your hands thoroughly and often.

Recently the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics issued suggestions focused on consuming proper nutrients that are most often recognized as helping build immunity. They include:

  • Protein plays a key role in the immune system’s patrolling white blood cells, which attack bacteria.
  • Vitamin A helps keep the immune system regulated and keeps skin and tissues functioning properly in the respiratory system.
  • Vitamin C is important in helping lymphocytes, another type of white blood cell, to fight against infectious microorganisms.
  • Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant, helping protect healthy cells from being attacked by the immune system.
  • Deficiencies in zinc can impair the immune system.

We are also hearing a lot about a virus called norovirus. The CDC states that in 2012 a new strain of norovirus was detected in Australia. It is called GII.4 Sydney. People in the U.S. and other countries have also been infected with the new strain. In the U.S., it is currently the leading cause of norovirus outbreaks.

Norovirus is a very contagious virus that can infect anyone. You can get it from an infected person, contaminated food or water or by touching contaminated surfaces. The virus causes your stomach or intestines, or both to become inflamed. This leads you to have stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting. These symptoms can be serious for some people, especially young children and older adults. It is recommended that a person who has had norovirus not work around food for three days after their symptoms have subsided.

Norovirus becomes confusing because it has many names. It is called “food poisoning” or “stomach flu.” Keep in mind that other germs and chemicals can also cause food poisoning and norovirus illness is NOT related to the flu (influenza), which is a respiratory virus.

Michigan State University Extension says that the best way to help prevent norovirus is to practice proper hand washing and general cleanliness. Research is showing that good old soap and water for hand washing is a better method of protection than hand sanitizers for protecting against norovirus.

Washing hands plays a large part in preventing both the flu and norovirus. If you do become ill, you will want to take precautions from making others around you ill. By following a few guidelines related to personal hygiene and cleanliness and making sure your diet is well rounded, you are taking the first step of defense for yourself against many bugs and viruses out there.

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