How Common Are They
Infections like food poisoning and the stomach flu are common. Each year in the United States, its estimated that 48 million people get food poisoning, and up to 21 million people get the stomach flu caused by norovirus. While many people quickly recover from these seemingly harmless illnesses, they cause thousands of ER visits and hospitalizations per year in the United States combined.
Is Food Poisoning Contagious What About The Stomach Flu
Pathogens like salmonella, norovirus, and E. coli can spread from person to person. In fact, if you have a norovirus illness in particular, you could be shedding billions of microscopic particlesand only a few are needed to cause illness, according to the CDC.
A person can eat food that leads to food poisoning or the stomach flu, for example, and then spread these germs around their immediate environment, says Dr. Gowara. You can get sick by having direct contact with the infected person, like through caring for them or sharing eating utensils. In an unpleasant-to-think-about scenario, you may also get sick by touching a surface that is contaminated with the pathogen and then putting your unwashed fingers in your mouth.
A person is most contagious when theyre experiencing their symptoms at full throttle, especially vomiting, as well as during the first few days when theyre starting to feel a bit better, per the CDC.
Symptoms To Watch For
Both the stomach flu and food poisoning are usually not life-threatening and should resolve within a few days. However, there are certain symptoms that you should be aware of that could be a sign of a worsening condition in need of medical attention.
If you have food poisoning, signs that you are getting worse rather than better include:
- Bloody stools or vomit
- Signs of dehydration, like lightheadedness or fast heart rate
- High fever
- Signs of dehydration
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How Are Food Poisoning And Stomach Flu Diagnosed
Theres a lot of overlap between the symptoms of food poisoning and stomach flu, so youand your doctormay need to do a little detective work to try to suss this out.
Mostly, it comes down to the symptoms youre dealing with.
Here are a few things to consider:
The stomach flu typically shows up within one to three days after youve been exposed, and it usually only lasts a day or two, according to the Mayo Clinic. After that, you should start to feel like yourself again, Dr. Adalja says.
If youre dealing with symptoms for a shorter or longer time than a day or two, you may have food poisoning. While norovirus is a common cause of both food poisoning and the stomach flu, so many bacteria can potentially cause the food poisoning that it can have a wider time frame than the stomach flu. Symptoms of food poisoning can crop up just a few hours after contamination, or even days or weeks later, and they can typically last from a few hours to several days, according to the Mayo Clinic.
If you have diarrhea and can stomach looking into the toilet bowl, take a peek. Its like the poop version of reading tea leaves: If you see blood in your diarrhea, it could be a sign of food poisoning.
Bloody diarrhea is more likely to be a symptom of some types of food poisoning because some bacteria, like shigella, can cause inflammatory changes in the intestines and lead to bleeding, but viruses are less likely to do so, Dr. Adalja explains.
What Causes Food Poisoning
Food poisoning develops when infectious organisms such as bacteria, viruses, or parasites contaminate foods. Bacteria, such as Staphylococcus aureus and Salmonella are among the top five germs that cause food poisoning in the United States. Norovirus is also within the same top-five list according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention .
You may get food poisoning from eating contaminated or undercooked meat. However, affected meat isnt the only food that causes food poisoning. The following foods can also lead to foodborne illness:
- raw and undercooked eggs
- unpasteurized beverages, such as milk, cider, and juice
- undercooked rice
Babies may have sunken eyes or fontanels when they become dehydrated. A fontanel is also known as the soft spot on a babys head. You should seek medical attention if any of these symptoms occur.
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When Should You See A Doctor
If you experience the following issues while dealing with your illness, its time to see your doctor, especially if youre very young, very old, pregnant, have a compromised immune system, or have multiple medical issues, says Dr. Lee.
- Struggling to keep up with fluid losses with obvious signs of dehydration
- Blood in stool
- High fever
- Vomiting for more than 24 hours
- Diarrhea lasting more than 3 days
Both food poisoning and stomach flu can result in complications, or even be fatal, if not treated properly. In severe cases, antibiotics may be necessary, says Dr. Lee. Your doctor can offer tests to determine the cause of your illness, often from a stool sample, to find the best treatment.
So You’re Feeling Terrible But Why Knowing The Reason For Your Upset Stomach Is The First Step To Feeling Better A Nurse Explains The Difference Between Food Poisoning And A Stomach Bug
Its a question no one ever wants to have to ask: Is this food poisoning or a stomach bug? Your stomachs starting to feel uneasy, but where did it come from? Either way, food poisoning and stomach bugs are miserable at best and dangerous at worst.
Both types of upset stomach can feel similar, but they have a few key differences to help you know what is going on, and more importantly, when youre going to get some relief.
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How To Prevent The Risk Of Food Poisoning
Preventing food poisoning is challenging, but you can reduce your risk with the following precautions:
- Keep food refrigerated
- Keep raw food separate from cooked food
- Buy whole cuts of meat instead of processed meat
- Wash fresh produce thoroughly
- Use soap and water to wash your hands before and between food preparation steps
Prevention For The Stomach Flu
The stomach flu is very contagious and easily transmitted. A person can be contagious before symptoms start to appear and for days after symptoms have stopped. In fact, germs can stay in your stool for two weeks, so you’ll want to take extra hygiene precautions, including:
- Wash your hands often and well with soap and water.
- Keep your hands away from your mouth and avoid shaking hands during known virus outbreaks.
- Handle and prepare food safely.
- Clean and disinfect common surfaces.
- Wash laundry thoroughly.
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How Do I Know If It’s Stomach Flu Or Food Poisoning
Both conditions cause gastrointestinal distress. However, if you have a fever, headache, body aches, and projectile vomiting, you may have a stomach bug or viral gastroenteritis. If you have bloody diarrhea, it could be food poisoning.
The circumstances surrounding your illness can offer clues. If you develop symptoms within a few hours of eating food that may have been spoiled or contaminated, you likely have food poisoning.
If a family member or friend ate the same food and became sick, thats another clue that points to food poisoning.
If you have eaten foods that are easily contaminated or spoiled, such as salad greens, undercooked eggs or meat, seafood, raw milk, or dairy products just before your symptoms worsen, it could be food poisoning.
On the other hand, if you have been around someone who has a similar illness, it could be viral gastroenteritis. For example, if your child is sick and theres a stomach bug going around your childs school.
How You Can Protect Yourself
Most cases of adenovirus are mild and dont require any medical care. However, worsening or severe symptoms require prompt medical treatment.
For people who need medical care, healthcare providers will provide symptomatic treatment as the main course of action.
Symptoms of the adenovirus can be similar to the common cold. But symptoms of hepatitis or serious illness can include severe abdominal pain, prolonged fever, jaundice, or yellowing of the skin and eyes, and increased lethargy.
These may indicate that you should reach out to a healthcare professional.
There is no widely available vaccine for adenovirus in the U.S.
Theres an oral vaccine against two strains of the adenovirus, but its reserved for U.S. military personnel between the ages of 17 and 50 who may be at high risk of infection, and it doesnt protect against adenovirus 41.
Health experts still advise people to wash their hands with antimicrobial soap and water. Frequent handwashing is advised, especially for those working in child or healthcare settings.
Experts also recommend staying home when youre sick. Avoid sharing cups and eating utensils and kissing or close contact with others until your symptoms pass.
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Everything You Need To Know About The Stomach Flu
Fun fact: the Stomach Flu isnt actually related to the flu virus at all.
The only commonality is that stomach bugs and the flu are both viruses. The stomach flu lasts anywhere from 1-10 days, depending on your immune system and the individual strain of the virus.
Unlike food poisoning, stomach bugs are usually not contracted via contaminated foods. You catch a stomach virus like you catch the flu by coming into contact with someone who is infected.
If youre aware someone has the stomach flu, youll want to take extra precautions to wash your hands after touching something an infected person has touched.
Try to refrain from touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, as this is the easiest way to pass the virus on from the infected person to yourself.
Technically, you can catch a stomach virus. When this happens, its a similar effect to putting your hand in your mouth after touching an infected person.
Make sure to avoid sharing food and drinks with someone who has a stomach bug.
There Is Substantial Difference Between Food Poisoning And Stomach Virus Pertaining To The Symptoms As Well
Stomach virus symptoms include watery diarrhea, vomiting and nausea, abdominal cramps, muscle aches, headache and fever. Most symptoms of stomach virus will become obvious only a day or two after being exposed to the specific virus. The symptoms can last for a day or two. In worse cases, the symptoms can easily last for ten days and more. Food poisoning has a few similar symptoms, like fever, vomiting, nausea and watery diarrhea. But food poisoning is also characterized by loss of appetite and fatigue. The symptoms will usually become obvious in a few hours after eating the contaminated food. It is quite possible that the symptoms will experienced within an hour of having a meal or drinking something. In some cases, the toxins or microorganisms take time to have an effect. In such cases, the symptoms will appear only in a few days, could be a few weeks. Depending on the severity of the contamination, the symptoms may last for a week or fortnight.
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What Are Symptoms Of Food Poisoning
Symptoms of food poisoning include stomach issues, such as cramps and vomiting, a fever, nausea or diarrhea.
Dangerous food poisoning circumstances include over three days of drastic symptoms, such as diarrhea, a high fever of 102, dehydration or a damaging effect to sight or speech, all according to the CDC.
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Causes Of The Stomach Flu
The stomach flu is usually caused by any number of different viruses that can attack your gastrointestinal system. Its not caused by the influenza virus, which gives you the seasonal flu.
Less often, bacteria can cause it, typically due to contaminated water or food that was prepared inadequately or in an unhygienic environment.
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When To Go To Urgent Care For Food Poisoning Vs Er
Most of the time, itâs fine to pick urgent care if you want an opinion after coming down with food poisoning or a stomach bug. As long as youre not in potentially life-threatening danger, urgent care providers will be able to offer the medical opinion you need.
That said, if it does seem serious, a trip to the ER may be in order. So, how do you know if food poisoning or a stomach virus is bad enough to warrant a hospital visit? If youâre experiencing one of the symptoms below, seek medical emergency attention immediately:
- Blood in stool or vomit
- Green or yellow colored vomit
- Fever above 101Â°F
- Trouble swallowing or breathing
What Are The Other Causes Of Diarrhea
Certain medications like antibiotics and anticancer medication can cause diarrhea as a side effect. Other causes include:
- Lactose intolerance: Lactose is present in dairy products. Some people have difficulty digesting lactose and present with diarrhea after eating dairy products.
- Artificial sweeteners: Artificial sweeteners in sugar-free products can cause diarrhea.
- Surgery: Abdominal or gallbladder removal surgeries can alter bowel movements causing diarrhea.
- Gastrointestinal disorders: Chronic diarrhea occurs due to several medical conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome .
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How K Health Can Help
In most cases, symptoms for the stomach flu and food poisoning are mild and last only a short time. While the stomach flu and food poisoning are uncomfortable, they are also quite common. The most important thing to remember when suffering from their symptoms is to stay hydrated. Did you know you can get affordable primary care with the K Health app? Download K to check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed text with a doctor in minutes. K Healths AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and based on 20 years of clinical data.
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
What Is A Stomach Virus
The terms stomach flu and stomach virus are used interchangeably both in this article and in popular usage, however the official medical term for this condition is viral gastroenteritis. The Mayo Clinic defines gastroenteritis as Ã¢an intestinal infection marked by watery diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea or vomiting, and sometimes fever.Ã¢ As its name indicates, the stomach virus is caused by a virus that can be transmitted from person to person. It is usually not very serious and once a person is struck with the stomach flu, they can expect to recover fully within a few days. While the term Ã¢fluÃ¢ is used, the stomach flu is not the same thing as influenza, or seasonal flu. That type of flu impacts the respiratory system and causes cold symptoms in the nose, throat, and lungs. Gastroenteritis , on the other hand, affects the stomach and/or intestines.
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Who Is Affected By Food Poisoning
Everyone is at risk of getting food poisoning, but certain groups of people are more likely to get sick after eating contaminated food. People who have a higher risk of foodborne illness are:
- Pregnant women.
- Older adults .
- Young children .
- People who have a weakened immune system due to cancer, HIV, or other illness.
How To Prevent Food Poisoning
Once youre done puking, youll probably want to avoid the experience againand being on top of your hygiene is the first step. That means washing your hands well, especially around food, and if you have kids, making sure theyre washing their hands well too. Here are a few other precautions you can take to prevent food poisoning, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services:
- Keep raw and ready-to-eat food separate.
- Cook foods to the recommended temperatures.
- Refrigerate or freeze food within one to two hours of cooking or buying it.
- Avoid thawing food at room temperature.
- Throw out any food youre not sure about. If youre even a bit hesitant, research the shelf life of that food so you know when its no longer good. Avoid just reheating leftovers repeatedlythat doesnt extend their shelf life .
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Stomach Flu And Food Poisoning Defined
Stomach flu and stomach bug are informal terms for viral gastroenteritis, a sickness in which a viral infection causes inflammation in the stomach and intestines. The term stomach flu can be misleading, says UH internal medicine specialist Christopher Thomas, DO, because the illness in not caused by influenza, which attacks the respiratory system.
Though it shares a number of symptoms with viral gastroenteritis, food poisoning is a condition caused by the consumption of contaminated food or water. In fact, food poisoning is an umbrella term for any of the more than 250 foodborne/waterborne illnesses researchers have identified to date.
Do You Have Other Symptoms Besides Gi Issues
Again, ongoing diarrhea attacks and a vomit-thon are the main signs. But stomach-flu sufferers can also have “additional extra-intestinal symptoms, or things that happen outside of your GI tract, says Dr. Sonpal. These can be signs of dehydration like headache, lightheadedness and dry mouth.
People with food poisoning can also experience non-stomach related signs. Depending on the germ youve regrettably swallowed, you could also have flu-like symptoms , increased gas, and in rare cases much scarier symptoms such as slurred speech, drooping eyelids, or a loss of balance, according to the Centers for Disease Control . Weakness, body aches, or even a rash are also possible signs, says , a board-certified family and ER doctor in New York City.
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