5 Major Differences between Stomach Flu and Food Poisoning

stomach ache

Stomach flu and food poisoning can have similar gastrointestinal symptoms, but some key differences between the two.

Stomach flu, also called viral gastroenteritis, is an infectious viral illness spread from person to person. Bacterial foodborne illness, also known as food poisoning, is caused by bacteria or parasites contaminating food. They are often transmitted when food is not cooked or handled correctly and hygienically.

Aside from their causes, here are the five major differences between stomach flu and food poisoning:

1. Type of Illness

Most viruses that cause stomach flu are spread by the fecal-oral route, which means that you get stomach flu when someone else’s poop comes into contact with your mouth.

The type of illness you will experience will depend on which virus is causing the stomach flu. In the case of most viruses, the infection is self-limiting, meaning the symptoms will eventually go away on their own.

On the other hand, bacterial food poisoning is caused by various harmful germs that can spread to your food. It can be through the hands of an infected food handler, contact with an animal’s feces, or through soil contaminated with animal or human waste.

These germs can also spread through cross-contamination, when bacteria from raw meat gets on a counter, cutting board, or utensil and then spreads to cooked or ready-to-eat food.

2. Spread of the Illness

Stomach flu is viral, so it is passed from person to person by contact with an infected person’s stool, vomit, spit, sweat, and saliva.

Meanwhile, food poisoning is caused by bacteria, parasites, or viruses. It is spread when undercooked food, food that is not appropriately refrigerated, or contaminated food touches the mouth, eyes, or the skin. 

3. Duration of Illness

The average illness from stomach flu lasts three to four days, which varies among individuals. You may feel sick for about a day and then recover for a few days before symptoms return. This pattern may be repeated several times.

In contrast, food poisoning symptoms may last several days. It is critical to get proper medical attention as soon as possible if you think you have food poisoning.

Food poisoning could last a few hours or a few days from start to finish. This is different from stomach flu, when symptoms are usually over in one to three days.

4. Common Symptoms

The most common stomach flu symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and stomach cramps. Some people may also experience chills, body aches, headaches, fever, and sore throat.

Conversely, the symptoms of food poisoning can vary widely depending on the foodborne bacteria or parasite that caused the illness. Some symptoms of food poisoning commonly seen include diarrhea, stomach cramps, vomiting, nausea, fever, chills, headache, aching muscles, and body aches.

5. Treatment

There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for stomach flu. The best way to get rid of the gastrointestinal symptoms is to drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated, avoid nonessential medications, and wait for the illness to run its course.

On the other hand, every case of food poisoning is different, so the treatment for each case will also be different. However, it is crucial to seek treatment as soon as possible to prevent your illness from worsening.


Both food poisoning and stomach flu can cause gastrointestinal symptoms. Even though they are similar, there are some critical differences between stomach flu and food poisoning.

It is imperative to seek treatment for the symptoms as soon as possible in both cases, especially when children are experiencing said symptoms. 

You can try a virtual visit or telemedicine that lets your child be seen by a pediatrician at Your Kid’s Urgent Care from the comfort of your home. Anywhere you are, it’s easy to connect with one of our pediatric providers on your desktop or mobile device. This lets you get a correct diagnosis without having to go to the doctor’s office.

You can get reliable, top-notch, and convenient children’s urgent care in Vestavia, AL, from Your Kids Urgent Care. We act as a link between a child’s doctor and the emergency room. Parents now have a way to get immediate care when their kids get sick at night or on the weekend. If your child needs urgent care, call us right away. We’re here for you!

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