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Stomach Flu vs Food Poisoning: Which One Is It?

Stomach flu vs food poisoning - it's hard to tell the difference, but these two illnesses are definitely different in a few ways.

Summer is usually the time when you’re socializing with loved ones, enjoying poolside meals, or even picnicking in the park. During the merrymaking, we often forget about a serious concern – food poisoning. Or could it actually be stomach flu? Here is everything you need to know about stomach flu vs food poisoning.

Stomach Flu vs Food Poisoning: The Symptoms

Food Poisoning Symptoms

Also known as foodborne disease, food poisoning is caused by eating contaminated food. Over 250 foodborne diseases have been identified, and most are infections caused by various bacteria, viruses, and parasites – such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria. However, harmful toxins and chemicals may also cause food contamination resulting in food poisoning.

Food poisoning symptoms are extremely uncomfortable, and you can experience them anywhere between a few hours to two days after consuming contaminated food. Symptoms typically get better within two days.

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever and chills
  • Headaches
  • Sweating
  • Thirst
  • General malaise

Stomach Flu Symptoms

Viral gastroenteritis, the stomach bug, or “stomach flu”, is a highly contagious virus-driven illness that often appears to be food poisoning. Various viruses can cause stomach flu, with the most frequent being the norovirus, rotavirus, and adenovirus. Every year the norovirus causes up to 21 million cases of stomach flu in the United States. People typically contract the stomach flu from coming into direct contact with someone who is sick, but you can also pick it up by touching contaminated items or surfaces.

The symptoms of a stomach bug are almost identical to food poisoning and usually develop within 24 to 72 hours of being exposed to the virus. While most cases resolve within a few days, it isn’t uncommon for some people to feel sick for as long as ten days. If symptoms persist, you should visit your doctor to rule out any complications or other illnesses.

  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach or intestinal cramps
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever and chills
  • Weight loss
  • Joint and muscle aches
  • Thirst
  • Headache
  • General malaise

Stomach Flu vs Food Poisoning: How to Tell the Difference

Differentiating between food poisoning and a stomach flu can be tricky because both share almost identical symptoms, like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramps.

But you can tell which is which with these critical differences:

  • Food poisoning usually begins faster than the stomach flu since you may experience symptoms within hours. In contrast, a stomach bug takes longer to develop.
  • Food poisoning typically only lasts for a day or two, but the stomach flu can last longer – up to ten days.
  • Food poisoning can often be traced back to contaminated food sources, but the stomach flu doesn’t have to be linked to a specific food source.

Related Read: How to Get Rid of a Cold in 24 Hours

Stomach Flu vs Food Poisoning: Treatment

How Do You Treat Food Poisoning?

If you have food poisoning, staying hydrated is crucial. You are likely losing fluids, so drink lots of water and avoid caffeinated or drinks high in sugar. Sports drinks that contain electrolytes, Pedialyte, and natural fruit juices may help as well. It’s also essential that you get enough rest so your body can make a quick recovery. Unfortunately, you just need to let it works its way out of your system.

How Do You Treat a Stomach Flu?

Like treating food poisoning, it’s 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.

Stomach Flu vs Food Poisoning: Prevention

How to Prevent the Risk of Food Poisoning

Preventing food poisoning is challenging, but you can reduce your risk with the following precautions:

  • Keep food refrigerated
  • Keep raw food separate from cooked food
  • Buy whole cuts of meat instead of processed meat
  • Wash fresh produce thoroughly
  • Use soap and water to wash your hands before and between food preparation steps

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 you’re sick or have been exposed to sick people. Chat to your doctor about the vaccine for rotavirus if you are considering something more.

Related Read: Important Things Women Need to Know About UTIs

In Closing

If your symptoms persist for longer than 24 hours or are more volatile with blood in your stool or vomit, or if you have severe stomach cramps, you should seek medical attention immediately, as this could indicate serious conditions like a bacterial infection. Please note that these recommendations are not a substitute for professional medical advice. If you would like to speak to a licensed medical professional, book a consultation on the Air Doctor app and get the support you need within minutes.


How long does stomach flu or food poisoning last?

Stomach flu can persist up to ten days, while food poisoning usually only lasts for a day or two. If your symptoms continue for more than two days, you probably have stomach flu.

Do you always vomit with food poisoning?

Not always but usually. Your symptoms depend on what caused you to get sick, but you will usually experience diarrhea, vomiting, and an upset stomach and nausea at the least.

Do you run a fever with food poisoning?

It is possible.

Most doctors will diagnose food poisoning based on your symptoms. While main symptoms are stomach cramps, nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting, it is possible to have a fever, headaches, muscle and joint aches, and even blood in your stool.

Why do stomach bugs start at night?

This is because of your circadian rhythm. In some people stomach flu symptoms are more extreme at night because at night your experience an increase in immune system activity which releases infection-fighting chemicals. These chemicals can cause inflammation that make you feel worse as your body fights the bug.


Jenny Cohen Drefler

Jenny Cohen Derfler

Air Dr CEO & Co-Founder

Jenny is the CEO and one of the Co-Founders at Air Doctor. She spent more than 20 years at Intel, most recently as general manager of its manufacturing facility in Israel and before that in various engineering and manufacturing roles in Silicon Valley. Air Doctor is her second startup having previously founded electric vehicle company ElectRoad.