Stomach flu and food poisoning have similar symptoms and it is sometimes difficult to differentiate between the two at home. Stomach flu is a form of viral gastroenteritis normally contracted when in contact with a virus such as rotavirus, norovirus, adenovirus or astrovirus. It can also be caused by bacteria, toxins, food allergies or medication. It is passed on through contaminated food or water.

Food poisoning

Food poisoning on the other hand can occur when contaminated food is ingested. Different types of bacteria could contaminate food in the course of handling or storage. Some types of bacteria cause food poisoning soon after the food is eaten, while others take several days before they take effect. Some of the main types of bacteria which cause food poisoning are listed below:


Common bacterias

  • Campylobacter is the most common food poisoning bug in Britain. It is also known as the “barbeque bug” and is found in undercooked poultry, burgers or shellfish. The symptoms may occur any time between one to ten days and the illness may last for a day to more than a week. The patient may take several weeks to recover fully.
  • Salmonella is found in raw meat, raw eggs or poultry. The symptoms can occur between twelve to forty eight hours. The illness could last for about three weeks and the bug could be carried for nearly three months.
  • E coli is found in unpasteurised milk and dairy products, raw vegetables, unpasteurised apple juice and also in undercooked or raw meats. The symptoms of E coli can manifest themselves within twelve hours to three days. It normally affects young children and the elderly quite severely.
  • Listeria is found in soft ripe cheese, poultry, meat, pate and salads. The duration of the symptoms of listeria vary from person to person. It can last from three days to even seventy days.

The symptoms of food poisoning and stomach flu are very similar and at times it is difficult to differentiate between the two. In both cases a patient may suffer nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps, flatulence and muscle aches. In the case of food poisoning there may also be a feeling of weakness and even occasionally, a fainting spell.

Food poisoning vs stomach flu

The symptoms of food poisoning normally manifest themselves between two to twenty four hours after eating. The symptoms of stomach flu, on the other hand take one to ten days to show, depending on the incubation period of the virus, following exposure to an infected person.

Stomach flu is caused by viruses which incubate in the digestive system. They are normally spread by direct contact, when food, drinks or eating utensils are shared with an infected person.

Unlike stomach flu, food poisoning is caused by bacteria in food that create toxins. This occurs when food is not handled or stored hygienically. Food poisoning occurs when contaminated food is eaten and enters the digestive system. When the symptoms are shared by others who ate the same food the ailment can be confirmed as food poisoning.

Stomach flu is not generally very serious but food poisoning may need hospitalization and in certain cases, especially in children, it may result in death.

In the case of stomach flu, the patient should have a lot of fluids and take rest. As the condition improves he can have a bland diet and soft food. Similarly, the patient needs a lot of fluids to replace those lost during a bout of food poisoning. In severe cases the doctor may prescribe antibiotics.

Stomach flu can be prevented by washing hands frequently especially when in contact with an infected person. Food poisoning can be prevented by keeping the hands, cooking surfaces and utensils clean. Food should be cooked and stored hygienically.

Pathological tests can be conducted to differentiate between stomach flu and food poisoning.


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