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Woman suffering from food poisoning or stomach flu

Is It Food Poisoning or 2024 Stomach Flu?

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Encountering the discomfort of food poisoning or stomach flu can be confusing due to their overlapping symptoms. Recognizing the distinctions between these two illnesses is crucial for effective treatment and safeguarding those around you from potential infection. This article delves into the primary variances between stomach flu, scientifically known as viral gastroenteritis, and food poisoning, providing insights into their symptoms, causes, and recommended courses of action.

Stomach flu versus food poisoning

Stomach flu, often used colloquially, refers to a range of stomach-related illnesses officially termed “viral gastroenteritis.” Gastroenteritis can ensue by various viruses that target the intestinal tract, distinct from the influenza virus. On the other hand, food poisoning stems from ingesting bacteria-contaminated food, emphasizing the importance of thorough food preparation to prevent bacterial growth.

Food poisoning can be more severe than typical stomach flu cases, sometimes leading to hospitalization or, in extreme cases, death. Preventative measures include regular handwashing by food handlers, as contamination is the primary transmission mode.

Symptoms and differences

Distinguishing between stomach flu and food poisoning proves challenging due to their symptom similarities. However, identifying food poisoning becomes more feasible if others consuming the same food also fall ill. Checking for similar reports of sickness in restaurants or contacting health departments aids in pinpointing the cause.

Food poisoning symptoms, generally more intense, can manifest immediately or days after consuming contaminated food. These symptoms include:

  1. nausea
  2. vomiting
  3. stomach pain
  4. diarrhea (watery or bloody)
  5. fever
  6. in rare cases, nervous system issues such as blurry vision or dizziness.

Stomach flu symptoms, with a 24- to 48-hour incubation period, typically last one to three days. Though some cases may persist for up to 10 days, symptoms include:

  1. watery diarrhea
  2. stomach pain
  3. nausea or vomiting
  4. muscle aches
  5. low-grade fever.

Testing and treatment

Doctors can conduct stool tests to identify bacteria associated with food poisoning or viruses linked to gastroenteritis, typically reserved for severe symptoms or strong suspicions of food poisoning. Treatment for both illnesses involves ample fluids and bed rest. The use of antibiotics is not really needed in these situations, unless you have a proven bacterial infection affecting your intestines.

Considering COVID-19

In the current context, it's essential to consider COVID-19 symptoms, with gastrointestinal manifestations like lack of appetite, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. Seeking medical advice becomes crucial if symptoms worsen or align with severe conditions.

Self-care measures and when to seek help

To alleviate symptoms, staying hydrated, consuming low-fat small meals, and resting are recommended. Consulting a doctor is advised for severe belly pain, inability to eat or drink, vomiting blood, blood in bowel movements, or a fever exceeding 100.4 degrees.


While most people recover from food poisoning or stomach flu without definitively identifying the cause, prioritizing hydration and monitoring symptom progression is vital. Seeking medical attention when symptoms escalate ensures timely intervention and appropriate care. Always consult a healthcare professional for guidance on managing and recovering from these illnesses.

Need to speak with a doctor? Ochsner Connected Anywhere offers on-demand access to a healthcare provider from your smartphone, tablet or computer. Start your video visit here.

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