Is the "stomach flu" a real disease?

Or is it just what we call ~24 hours of upset stomach, diarrhea, & cramps for lack of a better name?

No, the stomach flu is generally Norwalk or Rotavirus.

“Stomach flu” is the lay term for gastroenteritis, a viral or bacterial infection of the stomach and/or small intestine. So, yes, it is a real disease, but no, it doesn’t have anything to do with the influenza virus.

When folks say “stomach flu” what they generally have is a gastroenteritis, most commonly caused by a wide variety of viruses. The rotavirus, norovirus, and enteric adenovirus families cause a lot of these illnesses, as do a few other groups. They are often transmitted via contaminated food.

However, a wide variety of bacteria and intestinal parasites also cause the traditional symptoms of gastro-enteritis, such as salmonella, shigella, campylobacter, enterotoxic E. Coli, vibrio cholera, and even garden-variety staph aureus. This of course is only a partial list.

It can be quite hard to pin down a precise diagnosis, and a good history should be gleaned. If vomiting is the major symptom, the culprit is more likely to be staph, a norovirus, or bacillus cereus to name but a few possible pathogens. If watery diarrhea predominates, other agents (including things like C. Difficile or cryptosporidium) may be more likely.

To further define the type of infection, it helps to evaluate the diarrhea and see if it’s inflammatory or not, as an inflammatory diarrhea (with bloody mucus) points more towards salmonella, shigella, or other toxins, including parasites.

Fortunately, most of the infections are self-limited and do not require diagnostic testing.

Hope that helps!

“Stomach flu” is one of those things–like “ATM machine,” “PIN number” and “alot”–that brings out my inner copy editor, and I have to physically restrain myself from screaming, "you cannot get the flu in your stomach!"

What PIN did the seamstress use?

The bit I bolded reminded me of this.

Eve, Darling (and how are you, by the way, it’s been too long), do you indeed physically restrain yourself, perhaps by holding your hands over your mouth to stifle the scream, or rather, metaphorically physically restrain yourself while pedantically picking your grammatical nits?

Of course, “ATM” is already redundant, anyway. What, did you expect an automated teller person?