Food Poisoning vs. Stomach Flu: How to Tell the Difference

Man with food poisoning over a toilet seat


Are you experiencing pain in your abdomen?

You could be one of the 48 million people who experience food poisoning in America each year.

Or, you could be one of the 100 million Americans who get stomach flu every year.

How do you know whether you have food poisoning or stomach flu? The symptoms of both are quite similar. That’s why many people confuse the two.

Find out how to tell the difference between food poisoning vs stomach flu by reading the below.

Food Poisoning vs Stomach Flu

Stomach flu is caused by a viral infection to the digestive system. However, there are many different types of the virus.

By contrast, food poisoning is caused by an infection from bacteria, such as Salmonella, which is consumed via contaminated or inedible food, especially uncooked meat or fish.

While stomach flu is highly contagious from the start to a few days after the person has recovered from the virus. A stomach flu can also be transmitted via contaminated food or contact with a person with the virus.

The Symptoms

Since discomfort or pain in the abdomen is a common symptom of both stomach flu and food poisoning, it’s never easy to tell the difference. That’s why it’s important to know the other symptoms that allow you to identify which virus you have.

The symptoms for both stomach flu and food poisoning include the following:

  1. Diarrhea
  2. Loss of appetite
  3. Stomach cramps and muscle ache
  4. Fever
  5. Headaches
  6. Vomiting

However, there are important differences too.

  1. In most cases, you won’t experience bloody stools during in stomach flu.
  2. If you have stomach flu, your symptoms could last up to 10 days, whereas food poisoning often lasts between a few hours and a full day.
  3. If you recently ate a suspect food and other people have the same symptoms, it’s probably food poisoning.

How to Diagnose Your Virus?

If you visit a doctor to diagnose your virus, you’ll be asked about your symptoms. The doctor may require a stool test.

Although it’s possible to identify rotavirus and norovirus (types of stomach flu) there are many other types of flu that such a test won’t reveal.

However, it’s never easy to identify food poisoning. Especially if you don’t know the precise cause.

How to Treat Your Virus?

You can’t do much to treat your virus. Whether you have the stomach flu or food poisoning, you need to wait for the life cycle of the virus to be over.

However, you need to let your stomach settle so don’t eat any solid foods. You can gradually ease yourself back onto food by consuming bland foods, such as rice and toast.

Take plenty of sips of water to prevent dehydration. Avoid caffeine and alcohol and anything too fatty or sugary.

Do you Require Urgent Care?

Now you know the symptoms and treatments for food poisoning vs stomach flu. But if you’re displaying any symptoms worse than described above such as bloody stools or severe dehydration, you need to seek urgent medical attention.

If you are in the Starkville area visit us at State Urgent Care for immediate treatment. We are open from 8:00 am and 7:00 pm daily.