Food Poisoning or Stomach Virus: How to Tell the Difference

Most people have a hard time telling the difference between food poisoning and a stomach virus. After all, both ailments have similar symptoms. Both can cause a lot of pain, muscle weakness, and — not to get too indelicate — vomiting and watery diarrhea that leaves you on the toilet for hours.

Aside from the discomfort, food poisoning and stomach viruses can cause dehydration that puts your health at risk.


Which one is it?

How you respond to your ailment, though, depends on whether you have the stomach flu or food poisoning. If you don’t know what’s causing your stomach distress, try to identify these three details that can help you decide whether you might need medical attention from 1st Choice Urgent Care.

1. The time of year

Stomach viruses can happen at any time, of course. But according to data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most cases strike during the fall and winter months, when the viruses are more active. In 2017, the CDC tracked 70 million cases of stomach flu. Doctors reported about 75 million cases in mid-January.

In the warmer months, with those viruses less prevalent, your stomach distress is more likely to come from food poisoning. Also, maybe you go to more backyard cookouts or other activities where food preparation is less structured, and you may unknowingly eat tainted hamburgers, chicken, and other foods.

2. Watch the news for food poisoning outbreaks

Obviously, the media doesn’t cover every case of food poisoning. When an outbreak of E. coli, listeria, or salmonella, occurs, though, news channels often provide coverage. Maybe those reports can shed light on why you’re feeling sick!

3. Don’t take chances during bacteria outbreaks

Avoid restaurants and foods connected to the outbreak until health authorities give them a clean bill of health. Further, any time you have reason to doubt the way your food is being prepared, go elsewhere. Your health is not worth the risk.

Your symptoms come on quickly

Food poisoning and stomach virus share many symptoms. In addition to stomach distress, you may have a fever, feel weak, or break out in cold sweats. The similarities make it very hard for most people to tell the difference.

Although the two ailments feel similar, symptoms usually come on more quickly when you have food poisoning. Bacteria and parasites can make you feel bad within just two hours of eating tainted food. Viruses, however, usually take 24 to 48 hours.

As a virus attacks your system, you’ll start to notice small symptoms. Maybe your stomach feels a little upset or you don’t have as much energy as usual. Over the next day or two, the symptoms will become more intense.

Although food poisoning and stomach flu share a lot of symptoms, food poisoning has a longer list of symptoms than the stomach flu. You probably have food poisoning if you feel thirsty, have difficulty breathing, sweat a lot, or your eyes swell.

Give it a day or two, and then call us!

Regardless of whether you have food poisoning or you picked up a stomach bug, you should visit 1st Choice Urgent Care if your symptoms last more than two days. Trying to “tough it out” much longer likely means you’ll just feel sick that much longer. You could also put yourself at risk of developing other health problems.


Our urgent care center is open every day between 8am and 9pm You can also request an appointment with one of our doctors. Come see us so we can put you back on the path to wellness.

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