Is it the Stomach Flu or Food Poisoning?

Is it the Stomach Flu or Food Poisoning?

Out of nowhere, your stomach starts to do flip flops, nausea overwhelms you and suddenly you have to run to the restroom. Around your third trip back to the restroom, you ponder what is going on. Two possibilities pop into your head. You’ve come down with the stomach flu or you’ve somehow contracted food poisoning.

Pinpointing exactly whether you are sick due to the stomach flu or because of food poisoning can be tricky based off the very common symptoms such as nausea, stomach cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting. However, there are differences between the stomach flu and food poisoning that help doctors narrow-down what is wreaking havoc throughout your body and treat the culprit effectively.

Read on to learn more about the similarities and differences between the stomach flu and food poisoning.


Food Poisoning

Food poisoning, or bacterial gastroenteritis, is different. It’s more common than the stomach flu and is estimated to affect roughly 48 million people every year. Food poisoning is an illness that comes from eating food contaminated with bacteria which became tainted through unsanitary food handling and preparation. The common culprits of food poising are E. coli, Campylobacter, Salmonella, and Clostridium perfringens.


Typical symptoms of food poisoning include:

  • Sweating
  • Eye swelling
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Muscle aches
  • Headache
  • Thirst
  • Fatigue

Seek medical attention if you experience any of the following:

  • Blood or pus in your stool
  • Diarrhea lasting more than three days
  • Fever above 100.4°F in adults or above 101°F in children
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Shock
  • Severe abdominal cramping
  • Symptoms of dehydration, including fatigue and extreme thirst
  • Symptoms of food poisoning after visiting a developing country

The symptoms of food poisoning can appear anytime within hours to days or weeks after initial exposure. It depends on the pathogen causing the food poisoning. Symptoms typically get better within two days.

If you have a mild case of food poisoning, it may respond well to rest and fever-reducing medications. However, if you have a severe case, you may need to be admitted to the hospital for intravenous fluid hydration. Your doctor will review your symptoms and run tests to determine the best course of action.


To help prevent food poisoning:

  • Keep food preparation surfaces, utensils, and your hands clean.
  • Cook ground beef to 160°F
  • Make sure seafood is fully cooked
  • Cook roasts, steaks, and chops to 145°F
  • Cook chicken and turkey to 165°F
  • Make sure canned foods are from trusted distributors
  • Refrigerate any perishable foods within one hour
  • Throw out foods that look or smell questionable


Stomach Flu

Commonly called the stomach flu or viral gastroenteritis, isn’t influenza at all and your annual flu vaccine will not prevent it. Different types of viruses cause the stomach flu. The most common of which, found in the U.S. is known as norovirus. Norovirus is a family of highly contagious viruses that wreak ruthless havoc on your gastrointestinal tract. Norovirus is contracted by touching a surface where the bug is lurking and then touching your mouth, via close contact with someone already infected, or by eating food contaminated by someone carrying the virus.


Typical symptoms of the stomach flu include:

  • Stomach or Intestinal cramps
  • Nausea
  • Weight loss
  • Joint aches
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Muscle aches
  • Headache
  • Thirst
  • Fatigue
  • Dehydration*

*Seek medical attention if you experience any of the following signs of dehydration:

  • A decrease in urine output or dark urine
  • Dry mouth or throat
  • Excessive thirst
  • Fast heart rate
  • Low blood pressure
  • Dizziness
  • Dry diapers
  • A lack of tears in babies and toddlers
  • Sunken eyes in babies and toddlers

People typically develop the stomach flu symptoms within 24 to 72 hours of being exposed to the virus. Many cases of the stomach flu resolve within a couple of days. However, it’s not uncommon to feel sick for as many as 10 days. The longer the symptoms persist, contact your doctor to rule out any complications or other illnesses.

Unfortunately, antibiotics will not help treat the stomach flu because antibiotics work to treat bacterial infections and not viruses.


To help prevent passing along the stomach flu to others:
You’re typically the most contagious when you’re feeling the worst and a few days afterward.

  • Wash your hands
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces
  • Stay home from work or school for at least a few days after you feel better
  • Do not prepare food for others
  • Wash laundry thoroughly

Is it the Stomach Flu or Food Poisoning?

The Takeaway

While many symptoms of the stomach flu and food poisoning are similar, it’s important to determine which sickness you may have.

Think about what you’ve done in the past few days….

Have you been around someone that was sick, often running to the restroom? If so, it’s fair to say, you may have caught the stomach flu.

Did you eat that yogurt that smelled a little funny but you were hungry and ate it anyway, snacked on a turkey sandwich that someone left on the counter all afternoon, or did you recently take a trip out of the country? If so, food poisoning can be the culprit.

However, if you’re still unsure about what’s causing your symptoms, seek medical attention to be safe. Other, more serious health issues can cause similar symptoms and a doctor can rule those out.













This general information is not intended to diagnose any medical condition or to replace your healthcare professional. If you are displaying very serious signs such as an inability to wake up, seizures, or repeated vomiting, it is a time-sensitive medical emergency, you should seek immediate care and proceed to the emergency room immediately.