Food poisoning and stomach flu (also called viral gastroenteritis) are both gastrointestinal illnesses that can cause similar symptoms. However, their causes and treatments differ.
Food poisoning is usually caused by consuming contaminated food or water. It can be caused by bacteria (e.g., salmonella, E. coli), viruses (e.g., norovirus, hepatitis A), parasites, or toxins. Stomach flu (viral gastroenteritis), on the other hand, is mostly caused by viruses, specifically norovirus, rotavirus, and adenovirus. It is spread through contact with an infected person, contaminated surfaces, or eating contaminated food or water.
It is worth noting that food poisoning is mainly caused by eating contaminated food, while stomach flu is caused by viral infection. However, symptoms and duration may overlap, making it difficult to differentiate without a proper diagnosis or laboratory testing. If symptoms are severe or persistent, seek medical attention.
Differentiating between food poisoning and the stomach flu can be challenging because the two conditions have similar symptoms. However, here are some signs to help you differentiate between the two.
9 signs to help differentiate between food poisoning and stomach flu:
1. Symptoms appear
Food poisoning symptoms usually appear within a few hours of eating contaminated food, while stomach flu symptoms can take longer, usually within 12 to 48 hours.
2. Source of disease
If multiple people have symptoms after eating the same food, it’s more likely to be food poisoning. Stomach flu, on the other hand, can be spread through close contact with an infected person.
Vomiting is more common with stomach flu than with food poisoning. If vomiting is persistent and frequent, it may be a sign of the stomach flu.
Both conditions often cause diarrhea. However, food poisoning usually causes more severe and immediate diarrhea, whereas stomach flu may cause milder diarrhea over time.
Stomach flu usually presents with fever, while food poisoning may or may not be accompanied by fever. Fever is more likely a symptom of the stomach flu.
6. Abdominal cramps
Cramps are a common symptom of food poisoning and stomach flu, but the severity and duration can vary. Food poisoning may cause severe cramps that last for a shorter period of time, while stomach flu cramps may be longer lasting but less severe.
7. Course of disease
Food poisoning usually clears up within 24 to 48 hours, while stomach flu may last from a few days to a week. If symptoms persist for a longer period of time, it may indicate you have the stomach flu.
8. Blood in the stool
Blood in the stool, although rare, is more likely related to food poisoning. If there is blood in your stool, seek medical attention immediately.
Both food poisoning and stomach flu can lead to dehydration through vomiting and diarrhea. Fluid loss needs to be controlled by drinking lots of fluids, especially electrolyte solutions.
If symptoms worsen, persist for an extended period of time, or if you are unsure of the cause, it is wise to consult a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Keep in mind that these signs are not clear-cut and it is best to seek professional medical advice for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
Disclaimer: This content, including advice, provides general information only. It is in no way a substitute for qualified medical advice. Be sure to consult a specialist or your own doctor for more information. NDTV takes no responsibility for this information.