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Difference Between Stomach Flu and Food Poisoning

Stomach flu is also known as viral gastroenteritis, is mainly caused by viruses like norovirus or rotavirus. It is mainly transmitted through contaminated food, water, or contact with an infected person. Here are some of the symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, fever, and body aches.  Most of the time these symptoms are short-lived illness that goes away within a few days with rest and hydration. Whereas food poisoning comes from ingesting food contaminated with bacteria or parasites. Sometimes from toxins produced by bacteria such as Salmonella or E. coli. Symptoms for food poisoning can be different depending on the contaminant. Most of the time symptoms for food poisoning includes nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, and sometimes blood in the stool. The onset of symptoms is typically rapid, appearing within hours of eating or drinking contaminated food and drinks.

What is Stomach Flu?


Stomach flu is also known as gastroenteritis and is when there is inflammation present in the intestines and stomach.

Causes and prevalence:

There are several reasons for stomach flu developing including infection with various microbes like bacteria or viruses. Drugs can also sometimes cause stomach flu. About 17% of the population in the United States has gastroenteritis each year.

Symptoms and complications:

The symptoms of stomach flu include diarrhea, vomiting, and pain in the stomach. A person can become dangerously dehydrated if their symptoms are severe enough. Dehydration can cause blood pressure to drop making the person feel very faint.


A physical examination can lead to diagnosis of stomach flu. There may be stool testing done as well as part of the diagnosis to determine if there are microbes present causing the stomach flu.


Treatment includes rehydration, which may need to be done intravenously. Intravenous fluid rehydration is important when the person is unable to keep fluids down. The person may also be given antidiarrheal medicines.

What is Food Poisoning?


Food poisoning is when you get ill because of eating food that is contaminated with some microorganism.

Causes and prevalence:

A variety of pathogens can cause food poisoning. These include bacteria like Listeria, E. coli, Salmonella, and Campylobacter. Norovirus and hepatitis virus can also be caught by eating contaminated food. About 48 million people in the U.S. suffer from food poisoning each year. Correct food preparation and storage is important and can help prevent food poisoning.

Symptoms and complications:

Symptoms of food poisoning include having an upset stomach with diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. The person may also have pain in the stomach and intestines, and develop a fever. A fever is often a sign of an infection with some type of pathogen. Food poisoning can be dangerous and lead to death. E. coli infection in young children is very dangerous as it can cause kidney damage and failure.


Diagnosis of food poisoning is by a clinical evaluation and possibly a stool sample to find out what bacteria or other microbes are involved.


A person with food poisoning often needs to be given fluids and antimicrobials. The antimicrobials may be antibiotic or antiparasitic drugs. Probiotics can be helpful when used with antibiotics to replenish the healthy bacteria in the gut.

Difference between Stomach Flu and Food Poisoning?


Stomach flu is gastroenteritis, which is an inflammatory response in the intestines and stomach. Food poisoning is gastric upset because of eating food that is contaminated with some type of microbe.


The causes of stomach flu include medications, drugs, and microbes. The causes of food poisoning include several bacteria like E. coli, Salmonella, Listeria, and Campylobacter, and viruses like norovirus.

Symptom onset

The onset of symptoms in stomach flu occurs anywhere between 12 and 48 hours. The onset of symptoms in the case of food poisoning, occurs within 6 hours.


The main complication with stomach flu is dehydration due to the loss of fluids. Food poisoning can also lead to dehydration, but more dangerously, it can result in kidney failure (if you have E. coli).


Rehydration and antidiarrheals are how stomach flu can be treated. Food poisoning is also treated with rehydration but often antibiotics are given if the causative organism is a bacterium.

Prevalence in the United States

About 17% of the population has stomach flu each year. There are about 48 million cases of food poisoning in the United States per year.

Table comparing Stomach Flu and Food Poisoning

Summary of Stomach Flu Vs. Food Poisoning

  • Stomach flu and food poisoning have similar symptoms making it difficult to always know which you have.
  • Food poisoning usually happens soon after eating while stomach flu takes at least 24 hours to develop.
  • For both stomach flu and food poisoning, dehydration is a problem and the patient usually needs rehydration therapy.


How do I know if it’s food poisoning or a stomach virus?

Food poisoning happens very soon after eating, in the same day, within about 6 hours. Viral stomach flu appears about 24 hours after exposure.

What are the 1st signs of food poisoning?

Nausea, vomiting, and watery diarrhea are the first signs of food poisoning.

How do you know the difference between food poisoning and getting sick from food?

Food poisoning is usually more severe than if you have a food intolerance.

How to feel better if you have food poisoning or stomach flu?

Rehydration is important in helping you recover from the fluid lost due to the diarrhea and vomiting.

Is there a stomach bug going around at the moment 2024?

Norovirus cases are increasing at the moment.

What are the stages of food poisoning?

The first stage of food poisoning is eating the contaminated food and then within a couple of hours becoming nauseated, then vomiting and experiencing diarrhea. Food poisoning begins soon after eating, within just a couple of hours.

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References :

[0]Image credit: https://www.canva.com/photos/MAEEBGfBfXY-stomach-flu/

[1]Image credit: https://www.canva.com/photos/MADD0WupMKM-food-poisoning-label-and-terms/

[2]Bien, Justyna, Olga Sokolova, and Przemyslaw Bozko. "Role of uropathogenic Escherichia coli virulence factors in development of urinary tract infection and kidney damage." International journal of nephrology 2012 (2012).

[3]Gottfried, Jonathan “Overview of gastroenteritis”. Merckmanuals. Merck & Co., 2023, https://www.msdmanuals.com/professional/gastrointestinal-disorders/gastroenteritis/overview-of-gastroenteritis

[4]Mayo Clinic. “Food poisoning”. Mayo Clinic, 2024, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/food-poisoning/symptoms-causes/syc-20356230#

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