Difference Between Stomach Flu and Food Poisoning

Both Stomach Flu and Food Poisoning are diseases which affect the stomach in a literal sense. However, they have different causes, symptoms, intensity and even treatments.


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The significant difference between them is the source from which they are caused.

Key Takeaways

  1. Stomach flu, or gastroenteritis, is an inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract caused by viral, bacterial, or parasitic infections, resulting in symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.
  2. Food poisoning occurs when consuming contaminated food or beverages, leading to various symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites, or toxins.
  3. The primary difference between stomach flu and food poisoning lies in their causes, with stomach flu resulting from various infectious agents. In contrast, food poisoning stems from ingesting contaminated food or drinks.

Stomach Flu vs Food Poisoning

Stomach flu or gastroenteritis is brought on by contagious germs or viruses that can be passed from person to person through coughing or personal touch. While food poisoning is caused by drinking or consuming contaminated food or water. Can be caused due to undercooked or incorrectly stored food.

Stomach Flu vs Food Poisoning

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There are several differences despite the similarities they may have. What is outrightly similar between the two of them is that they are identified as sickness and pain in the abdomen.

Quite a few of their symptoms are similar to each other, which is why they are confused with each other.


Comparison Table

Parameter of ComparisonStomach FluFood Poisoning
MeaningStomach flu is mainly an intestinal disease, viral and marked by watery diarrhoea, abdominal cramps, nausea etc.The consumption of contaminated food causes food poisoning due to infectious organisms such as viruses, bacteria or parasites.
ScopeStomach flu has a broader scope as it can include food poisoning.Food poisoning has a narrower scope as it can be a part of Stomach Flu.
SeverityStomach flu is generally less severe as compared to food poisoning because it is rarely lethal.Depending upon the cause, food poisoning can be lethal in case some lethal substance is consumed.
SourceA majority of stomach flu cannot be traced back to any specific source. The stomach flu outbreaks may have no specific cause.Food Poisoning is mainly traced back to a source of contaminated food.
Kind of TreatmentStomach flu mainly occurs due to Viruses, and hence antibiotics are not very useful in curing stomach flu.Food poisoning from bacterial infections may be cured with antibiotics. For other sources such as parasites etc., specialised therapy may be required.


What is Stomach Flu?

Stomach flu is scientifically known as viral gastroenteritis and is an intestinal infection. It is generally marked by watery diarrhoea, cramps in the abdominal region, vomiting, nausea and fever in some instances.

It is a much broader term than food poisoning and often includes food poisoning as a component. Therefore, it may be caused by consuming contaminated foods or having other sources, such as getting in contact with an infected person.

It is believed that an individual, if healthy, will recover from stomach flu quickly in a short while with the correct precautions. In other cases, such as children, adults or aged people with immune systems not very strong, it may prove to be deadly.

However, in comparison with food poisoning, it is generally less severe.

It is also understood that since a virus causes it, antibiotics are ideally not effective in curing stomach flu. And owing to this, it is also a common understanding that prevention is the key to this infection.

In other words, taking care of consuming good and healthy food and avoiding contaminated food, along with washing hands often and taking care of hygiene, would prove to be of help.

stomach flu

What is Food Poisoning?

Food poisoning is specifically caused by the consumption of contaminated food or substances having adverse effects. It is also known as a foodborne illness because its source can be traced back to contaminated food.

The most common causes are infectious organisms like bacteria, parasites, viruses, at times or their toxins. These organisms are capable of contaminating food or any edible substance, for that matter, at any point, whether during production, storage or consumption.

Moreover, contamination can also take place at home if the cooking or processing isn’t done correctly, taking into consideration all the hygienic matters. Thus, paying special attention to everything one consumes is imperative to avoid food poisoning.

It has been realised that food poisoning can be lethal and more dangerous as compared to stomach flu. However, it is mainly found to be mild and may be resolved without complicated treatment.

The symptoms may start or show within a short period of consuming the food item which was contaminated in its nature. The symptoms may include diarrhoea, vomiting or nausea but are not limited to them.

There could be several other symptoms like fever or abdominal cramps too.

Food poisoning, in essence, has a narrower scope than Stomach flu as it can just be a part of stomach flu. Regarding the treatment, if bacteria cause it, it can be treated with antibiotics.

In case there is some other cause, like a parasite or any other toxin, specialised therapy may be required depending upon the cause.

food poisoning

Main Differences Between Stomach Flu and Food Poisoning

Stomach flu and food poisoning may have similar symptoms, but they have fundamental differences between them.

  1. The first difference between stomach flu and food poisoning is that stomach flu is a broader term which may include food poisoning, while food poisoning is a narrower term as it can easily be a part of stomach flu.
  2. Stomach flu is an intestinal infection which may or may not have a specific cause; however, food poisoning occurs specifically because of the consumption of food that might be contaminated.
  3. Stomach flu, in comparison to food poisoning, is generally considered less severe. This is determined mainly because of the factor that stomach flu is rarely lethal for an individual. Food poisoning, on the other hand, could be lethal in case a dangerous substance is consumed.
  4. Another difference is that the cause or reason for stomach flu may not be easily traceable to a specific thing. Food poisoning, however, can be easily traced back to contaminated food.
  5. Viruses cause stomach flu, and hence antibiotics may not work. Antibiotics may work if bacteria cause food poisoning, or specialized therapy may be required for other organisms.
Difference Between Stomach Flu and Food Poisoning
  1. https://conservancy.umn.edu/bitstream/handle/11299/168913/mn_2000_eb_365-01.pdf?sequence=1
  2. https://go.gale.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA54926373&sid=googleScholar&v=2.1&it=r&linkaccess=abs&issn=00337021&p=AONE&sw=w
  3. https://conservancy.umn.edu/bitstream/handle/11299/168895/mn_2000_eb_354.pdf?sequence=1
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