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What’s The Difference Between Stomach Flu And Food Poisoning

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

What’s the Difference Between Food Poisoning & Stomach Flu?

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.

Stomach Flu Vs Food Poisoning: What Is The Difference

Food poisoning and Stomach Flu often get confused as they are both related to gastrointestinal issues. However, there are differences between the two. If you come down with a food poisoning or stomach flu episode, it is vital to know the difference between these two conditions rather than treating them as the same thing.

How Do I Know If Its Food Poisoning Or A Stomach Virus

If you are experiencing a severe upset stomach, but arent sure whether its the stomach flu or food poisoning, there are a few ways you can tell the difference.


  • Both food poisoning and the stomach virus can be caused by a virus. However, food poisoning can also be caused by bacteria and parasites.

Incubation Period

  • For people that have contracted the stomach virus, or viral gastroenteritis, it may take a while for symptoms to present themselves, with infected individuals often not exhibiting any issues until 24 to 48 hours after exposure to the virus.
  • For people with food poisoning, they often experience symptoms as soon as 2-6 hours after eating contaminated food.


  • If you have a stomach virus, you are likely to experience one or more of the following symptoms:
  • Diarrhea
  • Maintain a clean kitchen
  • Check the expiration dates before buying food

During the holiday season, it is especially important that you take care of what you eat at other peoples homes. Not everyone has the same standards of kitchen hygiene as you, so if something looks off with the food, its probably best not to eat it.

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How To Prevent The Risk Of Stomach Flu

You can reduce your risk of contracting a stomach bug by following good hygiene practices, ensuring you thoroughly wash your hands especially if youre sick or have been exposed to sick people. Chat to your doctor about the vaccine for rotavirus if you are considering something more.

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How Are Food Poisoning And Stomach Flu Diagnosed

Pin on Patient Education: Medical knowledge for all

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.

The Exorcist

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Food Poisoning Vs Stomach Flu: What’re The Similarities And Differences

Food poisoning and the flu have similar symptoms, which make it challenging to identify the difference between the two. However, they are still different conditions that have many differences.

1. Symptoms

Food Poisoning

The symptoms you get with food poisoning are different, depending on the cause of the contamination. Most common symptoms include the following:

  • Watery diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Abdominal cramps

You usually begin to get these symptoms within a few hours of eating food that has become contaminated. Some food poisoning symptoms take longerup to several days or weeks after eating the bad food. The symptoms usually last a few hours but can also last as many as several days.

Stomach Flu

When comparing food poisoning vs flu, you need to know that the two diseases have very similar symptoms. These include having nausea, vomiting, abdominal pains, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea. The symptoms usually last about one day and then you begin to feel better. Less than two percent of flu sufferers ever need to be hospitalized in the US, although it can be a major cause of death in people who live within developing countries.

2. Causes

Food Poisoning

The main cause of food poisoning is eating food that is contaminated with bacteria or viruses. The main bacteria include Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella, and Shigella species. Rarely, viruses can contaminate food, but most of the time, it is due to one of the pathogenic bacteria described above.

Stomach Flu

3. Treatment

What Is Food Poisoning What Is The Stomach Flu

Food poisoning is an illness caused by eating or drinking food or water contaminated with viruses, bacteria, toxins, parasites, or chemicals. Typical symptoms of food poisoning are vomiting and diarrhea.

The stomach flu is a general used term for various inflammatory problems in the digestive tract.

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Treating A Stomach Bug

Dehydration may become a serious concern for people who have the stomach virus. Watch for the symptoms of dehydration. You should seek medical attention if any of these symptoms occur.

Make sure you get plenty of fluids. Adults can drink fluids such as Gatorade with electrolytes, and children can also drink fluid replacement solutions such as Pedialyte. These drinks coupled with water will help restore the bodys hydration balance. For best results, drink a few sips every half hour to an hour.

Dont drink sugary drinks like Kool-Aid or sodas, as these liquids dont replace lost electrolytes. Taking in ice chips or drinking plain water is another good option for staying hydrated.

Once you feel ready to eat again, give your stomach a break by slowly introducing bland foods into your diet. These may include:

  • cereals
  • symptoms of dehydration, including fatigue and extreme thirst
  • symptoms of botulism
  • symptoms of food poisoning after visiting a developing country

If you have a mild case of food poisoning, it may respond well to rest and fever-reducing medications. If you have a severe case, you may need to be admitted to the hospital for intravenous fluid hydration. If you have severe bacterial food poisoning, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic.

Your doctor will review your symptoms and run tests to determine the best course of action.

Food Poisoning Vs Stomach Flu: What Are The Main Differences

Food Poisoning VS Stomach Flu. What Is It And How To Treat?

Many people have trouble telling the difference between food poisoning and stomach flu and struggle to determine which of the medical conditions theyre suffering from. The two disorders manifest so similarly most of the times, that its difficult to figure out which is which and how you should approach the treatment.

While the best recommendation is to go get checked by a medical professional, weve put together a short guide to help you get a better grasp of the differences between stomach flu and food poisoning and set your mind at ease until your appointment.

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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.

Comparing Stomach Flu And Food Poisoning

Lets look at this table that compares and contrasts stomach flu with food poisoning:

Stomach Flu
Viruses such as Norovirus and Rotavirus Toxins formed by bacteria such as Bacillus cereus or Staphylococcus
Nausea and vomiting Usually less severe and less common than diarrhea More common than diarrhea and more severe
Diarrhea Diarrhea is the most prominent symptom Less common, but may be severe when present
When do symptoms start? Usually at least 2 days after eating infected food Starts much faster than stomach flu earliest: 1hr, latest: 16 hrs
How long do the symptoms last? 2 to 3 days Usually resolves within 24 hours
Belly pain Cramp-like belly pain associated with diarrhea Belly cramps could be really bad
Cough, sore throat, or runny nose Maybe present
3. Large catering events4. Travellers Reheated leftover food that may have been contaminated or left out in room temperature for too long

Overall, food poisoning happens much faster than stomach flu, and resolves faster too. With food poisoning, the toxins are already in the food. Bacteria consumes the food and makes the toxins long before you eat it. The toxin starts working as soon as it is absorbed in your stomach.

On the other hand, the stomach flu virus doesnt spoil the food. Food will taste, smell, and feel normal when you eat it. The virus is not active until it gets inside your body. It needs time to invade your cells and use your protein to multiply its genetic material.

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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.

Stomach Flu Vs Food Poisoning: Is It Possible To Tell Symptoms Apart

Whatâs the Difference Between Stomach Flu and Food Poisoning?

When youre suffering through a wicked case of diarrhea, sudden vomiting, or the delightful sensation of both at the same time, it can be difficult to tell if your symptoms might be the result of the stomach flu or food poisoning.

While the stomach flu and food poisoning tend to be lumped together into one unpleasant category, there are actually many differences between the two. Still, its understandable to get confused, as they can both make your life hell for 48-ish hours.

Food poisoning and a stomach virus are nearly impossible to tell apart, Diane Calello, M.D., medical and executive director of the New Jersey Poison Information and Education System and associate professor of emergency medicine at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, tells SELF. Sometimes, the only way to know is if you can identify a food only eaten by people who get sick.

With that in mind, heres a comprehensive breakdown of stomach flu vs. food poisoning symptoms, the distinct causes of each, the factors that may help you determine which one is behind your sudden misery, and how to feel better ASAP.

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So Just What Is The Difference Between Food Poisoning And Gastro

There are many gastroenteritis infections, and many of them can originate from eating food. But classically we tend to group them into âlikeâ versions, and label them simple âgastroâ or âfood poisoningâ.

A quick word on food poisoning: Food can lead to illness in many different ways. It can be contaminated with bacteria, viruses, parasites, or toxins. Then thereâs chemical contamination, allergies, or simply over eating.

But the classic âfood poisoningâ relates to toxins. Food becomes contaminated with bacteria usually from the person preparing the food. They may not have worn gloves, washed their hands, or might have used the same knives and chopping boards for meat and salads. If the food is then left out at room temperature, the bacteria bubbles away producing lots of toxins, which spread throughout the food before it is eaten.

Once ingested, this toxin can immediately trigger an effect on us poor unsuspecting patients.

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These bugs cause illness by either producing a toxin in our bodies after they have been ingested, or they literally invade and infect the lining of the bowel.

Food Poisoning

  • Multiple culprits including: S aureus and Bacillus cereus

How Do You Treat A Stomach Flu

Like treating food poisoning, its important to stay hydrated and get enough rest. If you have contracted the stomach flu, dehydration is a serious concern, so ensure you drink lots of water and electrolyte-filled drinks. Give caffeine, alcohol, and sugary drinks a miss.

When you feel well enough to start eating again, slowly introduce some of these bland foods into your diet:

  • Cereals, whole grains, and bread
  • Potatoes and other vegetables
  • Fruits like bananas and apples
  • Plain yogurt but be wary of too much dairy.

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How To Treat Food Poisoning

You are sick and exhausted it can be hard to imagine better days. If your child has a batch of food poisoning, you can comfort them and mitigate their symptoms. You can also give your child kids diarrhea medicine if the symptoms are unbearable. There are a few ways to ease your food poisoning symptoms which we highly recommend trying:

  • Drinking Fluids
  • Your body is very dehydrated if you are experiencing vomiting and diarrhea. It is imperative to refuel your water levels to make your symptoms feel more at ease and flush out the toxins you consumed. Drinks with electrolytes are a great fluid to opt for because they help your body stay hydrated longer. Some common fluids with electrolytes are sports drinks and coconut water. The fun flavors also may distract your child from the symptoms they feel.
  • OTCs
  • Certain over-the-counter medicines may help soothe your nausea. The FDA does not recommend antidiarrheals or bismuth subsalicylate for children. However, you can choose the kids diarrhea medicine version for a proportionate dose that is safe for children to consume.

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What Causes Food Poisoning

Med Talk, Health Talk: Stomach flu vs 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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How To Prevent The Stomach Flu

The Mayo Clinic recommends following a few key steps to prevent the stomach flu:

  • If youve recently come into contact with someone who has the stomach flu or if someone in your home has it, disinfect surfaces as often as possible.
  • Avoid getting too close to someone who has the virus.
  • Avoiding sharing things like utensils, drinking glasses, plates, and towels.
  • Make sure your kids are vaccinated against rotavirus, which most typically causes the stomach flu in children .
  • When traveling, drink bottled water and avoid ice cubes and be wary of raw food and undercooked meat and fish.
  • Finally, make sure you follow food safety recommendations, like washing your hands after you use the bathroom and before you eat.

Bottom line: Yes, it hurts to toss out that delicious sandwich you forgot to pop in the fridge. But getting food poisoning or the stomach flu hurts a whole lot more. If youve set up shop in your bathroom and notice any of the severe symptoms mentioned above, dont hesitate to call your doctor to figure out the next best steps. Dr. Gorwana also offers up this reassurance, for what its worth: Just take it easy as best as you can. Its usually over within 48 hours.

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