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Food Poisoning vs. Stomach Bug: Comparison of Differences

Food Poisoning vs. Stomach Bug (Stomach Flu) Quick Comparison

Patient Comments
  • Food poisoning is a disease caused by eating or drinking food and/or water contaminated with viruses, bacteria, toxins, parasites and/or chemicals.
  • Stomach flu (stomach bug, gastroenteritis) is a nonspecific term that can include food poisoning; however, the stomach flu usually is viral and for a few days (short-term).
  • Food poisoning, depending upon the cause, usually is a more severe infection than the stomach flu. Some types of poisons can be lethal (for example, ingesting botulism toxin) while the stomach flu is rarely lethal (except in individuals severely dehydrated from nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea).
  • Vomiting and diarrhea are common symptoms of the stomach flu and food poisoning. However, food poisoning symptoms usually are more severe, and often include other symptoms depending upon the cause (bloody diarrhea, nerve involvement as seen in botulism, fever and other symptoms).
  • Both food poisoning and the stomach flu often occur in group settings that share food and drink and/or live in crowded conditions.
  • Often, food poisoning can be traced back to a source of contaminated food, while stomach flu does not have to be related to specific food source. About one-half of stomach flu outbreaks have no specific cause.
  • Both of these gut infections can be self-limiting, although the stomach flu is much more likely to be self – limiting than some food poisoning causes such as bacteria or parasites.
  • The more severe symptoms of food poisoning and stomach flu often are treated by rehydration, both orally and occasionally by intravenous (IV) fluids.
  • Most causes of the stomach flu are due to viruses so antibiotics are not useful. However, food poisoning from bacteria may require antibiotic therapy and other specialized therapy may be needed depending upon the parasites, chemicals and/or toxins responsible for the disease.
  • Treatment for nausea, vomiting, and/or dehydration is the same for both illnesses. Antidiarrheal medications may not be recommended for some causes of food poisoning.
  • Food poisoning usually may last up to 10 days, depending upon the cause.
  • The stomach flu usually lasts about 1 to 3 days. You can be contagious with the stomach flu for a few days up to about 2 weeks, depending on the infecting viral strain.

What Is Food Poisoning? What Is the Stomach Flu?

Food poisoning is an illness caused by eating or drinking food or water contaminated with viruses, bacteria, toxins, parasites, or chemicals. Typical symptoms of food poisoning are vomiting and diarrhea.

The stomach flu (gastroenteritis) is a general used term for various inflammatory problems in the digestive (gastrointestinal, GI) tract.

How Do You Get Food Poisoning vs. Stomach Flu?

Patient Comments

Viruses are the most frequent cause of food poisoning in the U.S. The next highest causes are bacteria. Other causes include chemicals, parasites, toxins, and bacteria.

Foods most commonly associated with food poisoning include:

  • Eggs
  • Poultry
  • Meats
  • Unpasteurized milk or other fluids
  • Cheese,
  • Raw fruits and vegetables (usually unwashed
  • Nuts
  • Spices

Gastroenteritis or the stomach flu can spread from person to person because of improper hand-washing following a bowel movement or handling a soiled diaper.

Last Reviewed 1/11/2018

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Patient Comments & Reviews

The eMedicineHealth doctors ask about Food Poisoning vs. Stomach Bug (Comparison of Differences:

Food Poisoning vs. Stomach Bug - Experience

Please share your experience with food poisoning or a stomach bug.

Food Poisoning vs. Stomach Bug - Causes

If known, what caused your case of food poisoning or the stomach flu?

Food Poisoning vs. Stomach Bug - Symptoms

What symptoms and signs did you have with food poisoning or the stomach flu?

Food Poisoning vs. Stomach Bug - Treatment

What treatments helped relieve symptoms of food poisoning or stomach flu? Did you require antibiotics? How long was recovery?

Stomach Bug Symptoms

Gastroenteritis, commonly referred to as the "stomach flu or stomach bug" is a condition that causes irritation and inflammation of the stomach and intestines (the gastrointestinal tract). The most common symptoms of a stomach bug are diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and crampy abdominal pain.

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