How to distinguish food poisoning from stomach flu


Introduction

You're dealing with serious gastrointestinal issues — think: nausea, cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea — that seem to come out of nowhere. Do you have a stomach problem… or was it something you ate?

Both the stomach flu and food poisoning can make you feel equally crappy. But they are two different diseases with different causes.

Food poisoning occurs when you eat food contaminated with a bacteria (think: salmonella or E. coli) or another pathogen. Stomach flu, or what doctors usually call viral gastroenteritis, is a viral infection of the stomach and intestines typically transmitted from person to person. (And despite the name, it's actually not related to the flu.)

Here's how you can tell the difference when you're feeling down, what you can do to feel better, and how to avoid getting sick next time.

Food poisoning: in summary

  • Symptoms: diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain or cramps, fever, headache, weakness
  • Causes: consumption of contaminated food or drink
  • Appearance of symptoms: 6 to 24 hours after consuming the food
  • Duration of symptoms: 12 to 48 hours, with some symptoms persisting longer
  • Treatment: rest, hydration, initially avoiding eating and gradually returning to a light diet
  • How to prevent: safe food preparation methods

Tips to avoid food poisoning

  • Wash surfaces such as cutting boards, utensils and countertops before cooking.
  • Keep raw meat, poultry and seafood away from anything ready to eat.
  • Cook foods to a safe internal temperature.
  • Store leftovers in the refrigerator within two hours of cooking.

Here are the other food safety rules.

Intestinal virus: in summary

  • Symptoms: diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain or cramps. In some cases: fever, chills, fatigue, muscle pain, headache, swollen lymph nodes
  • Causes: Viral infection such as norovirus or rotavirus
  • Appearance of symptoms: 24-48 hours after exposure
  • Duration of symptoms: 12 to 48 hours, with some symptoms persisting longer
  • Treatment: rest, hydration, initially avoiding eating and gradually returning to a bland diet
  • How to prevent: Avoid close contact with those who are sick

Intestinal virus: the importance of washing your hands

To avoid the proliferation and contagion of the virus, it is important to wash your hands several times a day, especially before or after certain daily actions such as:

  • After using the bathroom
  • Before and after preparing food
  • Before eating
  • Before and after coming into contact with someone who is sick
  • Before and after nappy changes
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound
  • After coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose
  • After touching an animal, feed or animal waste
  • After touching the garbage
  • After touching shared surfaces, such as at the gym or on the train

Intoxication or intestinal virus? Different causes

Food poisoning occurs from eating or drinking something that is contaminated, usually with bacteria or toxins. This can happen when a food is not washed or stored properly, is undercooked, is not kept at the proper temperature, or is not handled in a hygienic manner (such as not washing your hands or cutting board).

Any food can be contaminated and cause food poisoning, however the most “risky” foods are: raw meat, poultry, seafood or eggs, raw or unpasteurized dairy products, raw fruit or vegetables that have not been washed properly.

Gastroenteritis, on the other hand, is caused by a viral infection. Norovirus is the most common culprit, followed by rotavirus. The viruses that cause gastroenteritis are highly contagious. Germs can pass from one person to another through close contact or sharing things like food, utensils, water, towels or sheets.

So, is it food poisoning or a stomach problem? Knowing the causes is essential to understanding how to act by treating the symptoms.

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