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Stomach Virus vs Food Poisoning

writtenByWritten by: Tessa Chatham Registered Nurse
Tessa Chatham Registered Nurse

Tessa Chatham Registered Nurse

Tessa is a MSN prepared Registered Nurse with 10 years of critical care experience in healthcare. When not practicing clinical nursing, she enjoys academic writing and is passionate about helping those affected by medical aliments live healthy lives.

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reviewBy Reviewed by: Dr. Katalin Karolyi
Reviewer

Dr. Katalin Karolyi

Katalin Karolyi, M.D. earned her medical degree at the University of Debrecen. After completing her residency program in pathology at the Kenezy Hospital, she obtained a postdoctoral position at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute, Orlando, Florida.

April 14, 2021 Read Time - 6 minutes

Stomach Virus vs Food Poisoning: What is the Difference?

A stomach virus is a gastrointestinal illness triggered by a viral infection. Food poisoning is an illness that is caused by eating food that contains bacteria, viruses, or parasites. The most common cause of stomach viruses is norovirus, while the most common causes of food poisoning are the bacteria Salmonella and E. coli.

Continue reading to find out the different symptoms and causes of getting a stomach virus versus food poisoning, as well as actions you can take to prevent getting either one.

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Symptoms of Stomach Virus

Stomach viruses attack the lining of your stomach and intestines, causing symptoms that involve your gastrointestinal tract. Symptoms of a stomach virus include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Belly pain
  • Stomach cramps
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Symptoms Of Food Poisoning

Food poisoning can be caused by a virus or bacteria, and is usually caused by improper handling of food and beverages by others. When an infected person touches your food and then you eat the food, you can get food poisoning. Food poisoning also affects your gastrointestinal tract.

Symptoms of food poisoning include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach pain or cramping
  • Diarrhea (watery or bloody)
  • Fever

Most foodborne infections will show a mixture of symptoms, such as diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal discomfort. Some food poisoning may cause more vomiting than diarrhea.

How Do You Know If You Have Food Poisoning Or A Stomach Virus?

Stomach viruses are always caused by a virus. Norovirus is the most common cause of stomach viruses and watery diarrhea. According to the CDC, over 1/3 of gastroenteritis cases have been associated with noroviruses. Stomach viruses can be transmitted from the vomit or stool of an infected person (including through the preparation of food items). 

The timing of symptoms may signify what type of illness you have. Some bacteria will cause illness within hours after ingestion, while others take at least a few hours to a few days to take effect (Salmonella, Campylobacter, Shigella, and E. coli).

Most food poisoning is caused by food or waterborne exposures to germs. Infections from bacteria are more likely to cause bloody diarrhea, particularly E. coli. A simple stool sample test can determine if you have an E. coli stomach bug.


Read: Stomach Flu vs. Food Poisoning


What Is A Stomach Bug?

In the medical community, a “bug” is usually referring to bacteria or a virus. A stomach bug is not an actual bug, but an infection. “Stomach bug” and “stomach flu” are both terms for viral gastroenteritis.

A stomach bug is different than food poisoning because it is caused by viruses, while food poisoning can be caused by viruses, bacteria, or parasites. How long does the stomach bug last? Stomach bugs usually appear 24 to 48 hours after exposure and last 48 to 72 hours.

How Long Does Food Poisoning Last?

Food poisoning has a quicker onset of symptoms in comparison to stomach bugs. Food poisoning usually appears in 2 to 6 hours but can start as short as 30 minutes after eating contaminated food or drinks. Food poisoning may last up to a few days.

Differences Between Stomach Virus And Food Poisoning

Both a stomach virus and food poisoning have similar symptoms, though they differ by transmission and length of illness. 

  • Stomach viruses are caused by viruses, while food poisoning can be caused by either viruses, bacteria, or parasites
  • Stomach viruses are highly contagious and can spread quickly, while food poisoning is caused by cross-contamination of germs from foods or drinks.
  • Food poisoning is more common; about 48 million people in the US contract food poisoning every year.

Causes Of Food Poisoning

Food poisoning comes from food items that are contaminated or cooked improperly. Salmonella is a type of bacteria found in food items when not cooked properly. Salmonella-containing foods include:

  • Poultry
  • Eggs
  • Milk products

Symptoms of Salmonella infection usually occur within 6 hours to 6 days after exposure.

E. coli is another common bacteria found in food poisoning. E. coli is most commonly associated with the ingestion of undercooked ground beef, though it can also be found in other foods that are uncooked or unpasteurized. 

Causes Of Stomach Virus

Stomach viruses are caused by viruses that infect your gastrointestinal lining. The most common types of stomach viruses include:

  • Norovirus 
  • Rotavirus
  • Adenovirus
  • Sapovirus
  • Astrovirus

Depending on the type of stomach virus you are infected with, symptoms may appear 1 to 3 days after you are exposed to the virus. Symptoms of a stomach virus can range from mild to severe, and they can last anywhere from 2 to 10 days, much longer than food poisoning.

Stomach viruses are not the same as bacterial infections. It is important to note that diarrhea can be caused by either viruses or bacteria.


Read: Get Stomach Flu Treatment Online


How To Prevent The Stomach Bug And Food Poisoning

Basic infection prevention and proper food handling techniques are key to preventing the stomach bug and food poisoning.

Infection prevention techniques include:

  • Hand hygiene (wash hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds)
  • Wash your hands prior to eating and cooking
  • Wash your hands after using the bathroom
  • Wash your hands after coming home from public places
  • Wash your hands before touching your face or mouth
  • Disinfect hard surfaces such as counters, faucets, and doorknobs
  • Do not place purses or bags on the kitchen table or counter
  • Avoid direct contact with napkins, tissues, or handkerchiefs used by others
  • Do not share drinks or utensils

Food poisoning can be managed clinically, but prevention is often encouraged. Proper food handling techniques to reduce food poisoning include:

  • Washing hands with warm water and soap before cooking
  • Cleaning cooking surfaces often
  • Using clean utensils to cook
  • Using separate cutting boards for raw meats and vegetables
  • Keeping raw meat, poultry, and fish away from other foods
  • Cooking meat to the recommended internal temperatures
  • Chilling and refrigerating foods promptly within 1 hour
  • Book on our free mobile app or website.

    Our doctors operate in all 50 states and same day appointments are available every 15 minutes.

  • See a doctor, get treatment and a prescription at your local pharmacy.

  • Use your health insurance just like you normally would to see your doctor.

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Get Stomach Virus and Food Poisoning Treatment Online

Stomach viruses and food poisoning are common gastrointestinal conditions that usually resolve on their own. Both can usually be treated at home, but sometimes require medical treatment.Make an appointment to speak with a PlushCare online doctor today if your stomach bug or food poisoning symptoms have not improved in 2 days. With PlushCare, you can speak to a board-certified primary care physician to determine the right treatment plan for your health.


Read More About Stomach Virus vs Food Poisoning


Sources:

PlushCare is dedicated to providing you with accurate and trustworthy health information.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Food Poisoning Symptoms. Accessed on April 13, 2021 at https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/symptoms.html

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Outbreaks of Gastroenteritis Associated with Noroviruses on Cruise Ships — United States, 2002. Accessed on January 12, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5149a2.htm

Mayo Clinic. Viral gastroenteritis (stomach flu). Accessed on January 11, 2021. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/viral-gastroenteritis/symptoms-causes/syc-20378847

Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Clinical approach and management of food poisoning. Accessed on January 12, 2021. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17175601/

Orenstein R. Gastroenteritis, Viral. Encyclopedia of Gastroenterology, 652–657. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-801238-3.65973-1

Most PlushCare articles are reviewed by M.D.s, Ph.Ds, N.P.s, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. Click here to learn more and meet some of the professionals behind our blog. The PlushCare blog, or any linked materials are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. For more information click here.

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