January 27, 2012

Stomach Virus (NOT FLU)

Describing a run-of-the-mill illness is like describing a dream. "I was too sick to take a shower." "It was so weird, it was LIKE our house, but it was ALSO our old apartment." "I sat in my recliner, but that turned out to be too active for me, so I had to lie on the couch." "You were you? but it was weird, you were also NOT you, you know?" "The barfing was bad, but it was the whole-body soreness that really got to me." "We were walking through, like, a park? I guess? And, like, you were telling me about your cat, but then suddenly Allison was there, and..." "I was TOO SICK TO CHECK TWITTER."

Illnesses and dreams feel so consuming, but they don't transfer well to the storytelling realm. Suffice it to say, I had a stomach virus (or perhaps food poisoning; it's hard to tell the difference) that completely felled me. And please note: the use of the term "stomach virus" is deliberate, to avoid spreading the highly misleading term "stomach flu." If we are vigilant over our entire lifetimes, if we spread the "stomach flu IS NOT FLU" message every chance we get, one day we may reach a utopia where no one will ever say again, "We were barfing all weekend! Stupid useless flu shot!!"

Who STARTED calling it stomach flu, anyway? Did they realize what they were doing? YES, some people barf when they have influenza; that doesn't mean that barfing = influenza. Influenza can also involve coughing and sneezing, but that doesn't mean that if your cold involves coughing and sneezing you have the cold flu; influenza can involve a sore throat, but that doesn't mean if you have a sore throat from strep you have the strep flu. A stomach virus might be CALLED stomach flu in a casual way, and that is FINE and I DO IT MYSELF, but it is only REALLY fine as long as all the speakers and all the listeners understand that it is NOT FLU. The flu shot does nothing to prevent it, BECAUSE IT IS NOT FLU. Why is it called flu if it's not flu? I don't know, why is a cold called a cold even though it's not about feeling cold? Why don't we have a singular pronoun instead of having to say "his or her" and "he or she" all the time? LANGUAGE IS WEIRD LIKE DREAMS.

Are we all clear? Because I could go on. Except I'm kind of too tired and sore still to go on, so just re-read the post kthanx.

43 comments:

Heather said...

I have a stomach virus as well (right now). I'm feeling sorry for my tired-raw throated self.

For me, if its food poisoning I do egg scented burps so I can tell it apart.

JEN said...

As a Microbiologist, I thank you for helping to clarify this!! Flu is a respiratory illness. Plain and simple.

Sorry you are feeling poorly. Hope you are better for the weekend!

HereWeGoAJen said...

I think too sick to check Twitter is a really good descriptor.

That is why I always call all of my illnesses the plague. It's simpler that way.

Cayt said...

Too sick to check Twitter? Holy crap. That's really sick.

Sara said...

My 7 year old is just getting over the stomach "bug", as I call it. She started puking soon after her birthday party--what a day. I hope you feel better soon!

Life of a Doctor's Wife said...

Awwww Swistle! That is terrible! I hope your stomach virus has petered out and DOESN'T AFFECT ANYONE ELSE IN YOUR HOUSEHOLD. Feel better!

Slim said...

I like to say "intestinal virus," just to emphasize the ooginess of it. And also I somehow think that's where the bugs are residing. I blame Jamie Lee Curtis.

Salome Ellen said...

Singular genderless pronoun = "it". Sorry, but every individual person DOES have a gender, just like every individual has a name. This is one of my crusades: save standard English! (And use the goshawful s/he if you must, or even "it", but don't expect me to like it...)

Saly said...

I am guilty of saying "stomach flu" because that's what my mother always called it, though I usually say "stomach bug". I am well aware though that illnesses of the stomach variety are not influenza. Sadly, I know both all too well.

Glad you are on the mend.

Swistle said...

Salome Ellen- Yes, you're right, I didn't phrase that right. I'll go fix it.

Marie Green said...

What I love is that my mom, upon getting influenza would tell me (and anyone who would listen) very GRAVELY: "I have INFLUENZA A. It's not the flu. It's INFLUENZA."

MOM! I'm only going to explain this ONE MORE TIME: "The flu" IS influenza. It's a shorter name for it!

"No. They said it's not the flu. It's a very serious illness called INFLUENA A."

*headdesk*

P.S. I was wondering where you were! So glad you lived and are back!

jen(melty) said...

duh, the flu means "really bad man-sickness!" it's just like those fools who must upgrade their headache to "migraine" because "migraine" means "really bad headache" I think if someone had a migraine they wouldn't be posting all over the internet but that's just me.

also I hope you are feeling back to normal very soon!

Alice said...

i love marie green's story! hee!

oh swistle, you poor thing. the stomach bug-flu-plague is a TERRIBLE thing.

(i did not KNOW there were people who even conflated the two! this is why it's useful to have a very outspoken microbiologist/geneticist sister; such misconceptions are not allowed to develop anywhere near her.)

Marie Green said...

Oh, I almost forgot:

"I'm not throwing up! It's a RESPIRATORY ILLNESS."

Yes, mom. Throwing up is not the flu. It's probably a stomach virus or food poisoning. The FLU, and what we get SHOTS FOR, is a respiratory illness. You have the flu; the same thing we get shots for.

"No, no. I got a flu shot this year. I get one every year, and I never throw up! But THIS is INFLUENZA A. I GOT a flu shot, so it can't be for INFLUENZA A, because I got a shot for it!"

MOM. The flu shot isn't PERFECT. They try to predict what flu will be coming over the winter and make the shot based on that, but some people still get the flu after getting the flu shot.

"But I don't HAVE the flu. I'm not throwing up. I have INFLUENZA A."

O.M.F.G. This is a true story that has repeated probably 3 times in the past 10 years.

d e v a n said...

Oh dear. I hope you are feeling all the way better soon and I really hope the children don't get it!

DawnA said...

Oh no. And after stomach yuckiness you just don't feel right for a week or so. At least that's what happens to me. Hope you are feeling better soon.

Jillian Pascale-Hague said...

Last year, I had the flu and will never say stomach flu again because those sicknesses belong in totally different realms. The word has become so diluted from the misuse (not that stomach stuff isn't bad, the flu just seems EPIC when you have it)!

Also, in regard to the genderless pronoun, did you know there are people who look for language gaps (example: we have a word for children who lost both parents, but not for parents who lost their children)? I think that would be such an interesting hobby.

Mary O said...

Shoot. Feel better, Swistle.

AnnetteK said...

AMEN! This is one of my biggest pet peeves. So many people I know call every possible virus the flu. It makes me insane.

Doing My Best said...

Crossing my fingers for you that the plague doesn't spread!!

Jessica said...

When anyone says they got the stomach flu even though they got a flu shot I have a very hard time not yelling IDIOT a la Deborah on Everybody Loves Raymond.

I wonder if we generally call it a stomach flu because there isn't a common name for stomach viruses like "a cold" is for nasal viruses.

Tracy said...

Arwen tweeted this link and I loved it. We call it the "stomach bug" to make sure all understand it is NOT the flu. I remember when the flu went through our household several years ago, esp. my then preteen son, who had tonsillitis or strep (they said tonsillitis, but I had strep the same time that he had flu), then a week later got the real Flu, and almost got hospitalized due to his completely devastated immune system (his ANC was just lower than 500. this is way low. Very bad for a supposedly healthy (in every other respect) child.)

Hope you are feeling best asap.

Maggie said...

Ugh so sorry. I had either food poisoning or stomach virus in November and spent an entire day lying in bed afterwards. Reading, watching TV, or checking Tweets was just too onerous. Could do nothing but lie still with eyes closed.

Glad you are on the mend!

Alicia said...

Yes! Let's be clear: stomach virus is not flu! How annoying is this misconception?!

And gross. I swear, as soon as I start hearing about the barfing, from other regions of the country usually, my family will have it within a couple weeks. I feel like it's coming. We haven't had it this season, and that is a minor miracle in itself. Makes me want to flee the U.S.

Nicole said...

OMG, I hate when people say they have the flu when it's a stomach virus. YOU DID NOT HAVE THE FLU. Also, I hate when you go to school and there is a pale faced wan child in line, and their mother is "Oh, he was throwing up all night! But he seems okay now." GO HOME YOU HORRIBLE PERSON WHO IS INFLICTING PAIN ON US ALL.

Sarah said...

Nicole, how about the death warmed over coworker that SWEARS, "it's not contagious.". Really? So this illness began and ends with you? That must suck for you that your body was chosen to endure this unique pathogen.

Amen on the flu clarification, Swistle. I just cannot stand when every damn sniffle becomes the FLU. The flu doesn't make you feel like shit. You feel like shit the week after you no longer have the flu. You can't actually describe what the flu feels like because it hurts too bad to speak or put thoughts together. Plus, the flu KILLS. How many books have you read about the Great Cold Pandemic of 1916: America's Shortage of Kleenex. Zero.

Little Spool said...

We are a week post all 6 of us having a stomach virus. Thankfully the barfing was kept to the bare minimum! It was the whole body soreness and complete, utter uselessness for at least 24 hours after that was the worst.

I was totally unaware that some people thought the flu shot was supposed to save you from the so-called stomach flu! I suppose I have always assumed that since *I* know the difference, when I throw 'stomach flu' around casually, other people did too.

Hope you feel betterr soon!

G said...

Now I want to read Sarah's book--the Great Gold Pandemic.... Ha!

Sorry you've been sick with not-the-flu, Swistle. (We call it "stomach bug" around here.)

-R- said...

Ok, this is getting off topic, but my boss who came to work with pinkeye also came to work all this week with some kind of virus. He felt so bad that he went to the doctor, but when the doctor told him he had a virus and couldn't get medicine, my boss came back to work to help spread it to anyone who hadn't yet OH MY GOD GO HOME.

Ok, I'm done now.

-R- said...

And now for an on-topic comment:

I hate when people don't get the flu shot because it allegedly doesn't work. Dear Lord, people. It isn't 100% preventitive, but if you had ever had the flu, you would want to get whatever protection you could get. Trust me.

ganda said...

Re there being no short term for "stomach virus", sounds like you guys don't use the term we do in Australia: gastro, short for gastroenteritis. Technically gastroenteritis can have bacterial (etc) causes, not just viral, but when people talk about having gastro they generally mean they have a stomach virus.
"Stomach flu"? Nooo!
Also, I too hate when a simple cold is suddenly "the flu". When you've had the real flu, you'll know how vastly different (the full-body pain! the fever! the utter exhaustion!) it is from a simple albeit annoying head cold.

JeannetteLS said...

Wow! This sparked a whole lot. I am with the people who say that people say "I have a migraine" Or "I have the stomach flu" because it just sounds oh-so horrible. My friend and I sometimes call one another and go, "OH, me. OH my. I have a COLD."

The other then goes, "I am so very sorry. There is just nothing worse." And whoever has it gets to whine really obnoxiously for about two minutes then says, "Okay. I'm done. Thanks."

You don't get enough attention from a headache that's bad, or being nauseous. WHY, I do not know.

But you are right. When one has a migraine, one does not write about it. We simply go to bed. And the actual flu may be a respiratory illness, but it feels like so much more. Yes, when you get it, you never call an intestinal bug the FLU again. EVER.

Nevertheless, Swistle, I am so glad you are back. And throwing up most of the planet, for whatever cause, just, plain, sucks. Period. So I am glad you are better, and hope that you aren't so worn out you get something else.

I have not had any strand of the flu since I started getting the shot. Before that, I had it three different times. I cannot help but feel that the shot had SOMETHING to do with that! May we ALL be flu-free!

clueless but hopeful mama said...

Oh Swis, you and I are twinsies! Sick twinsies! I'm on my third cracker today! Wheee!

Amen on the stomach bug vs. flu clarification. I hate to correct people when they are talking about their own barfing but SERIOUSLY.

Stacie said...

If anybody has ever actually HAD The Flu they will never say "the stomach flu" again. I received that gift from The Flu Fairy about 15 years ago and I still shudder thinking about it. I could not LIFT MY CHILD ZOMG. I have never been so sick in all my life and wouldn't wish that on anybody.

Sarah said...

I actually did not know this, and feel silly now since I JUST POSTED about my mom's illness, and I think used the terms stomach bug, stomach flu AND food poisoning to describe it, since no one, even the hospital, seems quite sure what's wrong with her but it's VERY BAD or whatevs. So... there's no such thing as the "stomach flu" ?
You learn something new every day.
Also? Why the crap does everyone keep barfing this winter? It seems like in your comment section half the people have the stomach BUG too!
Hope you feel better.
Also this post was very funny. Illness IS like a dream. It is so VIVID to the person experiencing it, and to everyone else it's like, "Oh, yeah, so and so was barfy and weak for a few days last week." But if you are the so-and-so it's more like, "I had an out of body experience and saw a light at the end of the tunnel last week!"

brzeski said...

I *wondered* where you were! And I hoped it was nothing too terrible. Sadly it was. Sorry bout that barfing thing.

One of my FB friends JUST SAID THAT the other day: "Stomach flu! Why did I even spring for the flu shot!" And this is a smart woman with an advanced professional degree (not in medicine thankfully). It was all I could do not to post a big preachy correction. Now I'm considering it again. Also, I have to have the same conversation with my husband EVERY YEAR. The flu shot is not for barfing flu. NOT.

Swistle said...

Sarah- Ha ha! I call it "stomach flu" too, because everyone knows what that means and because I grew up saying it! It's only with EFFORT that I call it a stomach virus or stomach bug.

Josefina said...

Oh Swistle, I was worried that was why you'd been absent. That thing has been speading around like wildfire. I hope you have your energy back soon. Also THANK YOU for using this time to spread the message that a stomach virus is NOT THE FLU. I am always floored when adults, the older than me kind, do not know this. We must spread the word! Stop the annoying misrepresentation of illness! (And for goodness sakes, older people in my life, get your flu shots! And maybe a Pneumovax shot while you're at it. You're stressing me out.)

Bibliomama said...

I do say stomach flu, but I was pretty sure no one really THOUGHT that the flu shot was for stomach viruses. Then my really smart friend with a Master's in Physics made the 'stupid useless flu shot' comment. Which forces us to come here and be douchey talking about how much smarter we are than those poor deluded fools.

Anyway, my sincere sympathies. It's one of the worst things to experience, especially with kids - and I only have two, so extra sympathy for you.

Elsha said...

I always call it a "stomach bug" so that people know that I know- IT'S NOT THE FLU.

Hope you're feeling better!

Cayt said...

Regarding genderless pronouns (not everybody has a gender, some people identify as genderless, genderqueer, third gender, etc), there are a couple that are used in social justice circles. My go-to ones are hir and sie, but sie can also be written ze or xie. So it's he/she/sie/ze/xie, and his/her/hir and him/her/hir. Sie/ze/xie is pronounced like zee, and hir like hear. There is also the option of 'they' for a singular genderless pronoun, which has been in common use since chaucer's day, and it was not until the 1800s that grammaticians decided that it was unacceptable. I have friends whose preferred genderless pronoun is they. Another, albeit less common, option is ou, as in "This is Bob. Ou's a gemini." This feels awkward to me, but that's probably due to lack of practise.

I use hir and sie in situations where I'm discussing somebody whose pronoun preferences I don't know (mostly on the internet where usernames can be ambiguous). If I need to find out somebody's gender pronoun preferences, I ask them.

Ms. Key said...

FLU doesn't sound like a word anymore! You know when you read something over and over and that happens?!

Get well soon, m'dear!!! My mom always called it the stomach flu too when we were pukey, so I totally always call it that... oops! I'll be more diligent. I blame my mother! (BUT, however this happened... I do find people KNOW when you say "stomach flu" that you were puking and such, so I guess this really became a common term whether or not it's correct).

Amanda said...

I think I love you.