Is It a Stomach Virus or Food Poisoning?

What is stomach virus?

Some cases of stomach virus and food poisoning may resolve in a few days
Some cases of stomach virus and food poisoning may resolve in a few days

A stomach virus is also called stomach flu or gastroenteritis. It is a viral infection that infects the tummy and the gut. The most common cause is norovirus and other viruses. Stomach viruses are contagious and spread easily. Stomach viruses may spread in the following ways:

  • Consuming contaminated food or drinks
  • Direct contact or sharing utensils with an infected person
  • Touching surfaces that may be infected

What is food poisoning?

Food poisoning is also often called gastroenteritis and may present symptoms like stomach virus/stomach flu. However, food poisoning is caused by consuming food or drinks that may be contaminated with bacteria, viruses, or parasites. The most common cause is bacteria, such as Salmonella and E. coli.

  • The onset of symptoms in food poisoning is quicker than that of a stomach virus. The symptoms of a stomach virus can take a few days to develop, whereas, in food poisoning, symptoms may appear as quickly as within six hours of consuming contaminated food and drinks. Symptoms of food poisoning may last longer.

Food poisoning may spread in the following ways: 

  • Consuming contaminated food or drinks.
  • Consuming raw salads, eggs, undercooked meat, and dairy have a high risk of causing food poisoning if not handled or cleaned properly.

What are the signs and symptoms of a stomach virus?

The most common symptoms of a stomach virus are:

What are the signs and symptoms of food poisoning?

Food poisoning may usually affect more than one person (whoever has consumed the same food or drinks) and can be traced to a particular event/source. The most common signs and symptoms of food poisoning are:

What is the treatment?

Some cases of stomach virus and food poisoning may resolve in a few days with simple lifestyle changes and home remedies. If not, it is advised to seek medical attention.

  • Adequate rest and drinking plenty of clear liquids, such as water, broths, and juices, to treat and prevent dehydration.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
  • Avoid certain foods like dairy, fatty, high-fiber foods, or highly flavored foods because they are difficult to digest and may worsen diarrhea. Simple food like crackers, toast, eggs, rice, or chicken may be eaten.
  • Over-the-counter, antidiarrheal, and anti-vomiting medications: These should not be taken without consulting a doctor. When a person has diarrhea or vomiting, the body is trying to eliminate toxins and harmful bacteria as well. Antidiarrheal medication may stop diarrhea but in turn, will cause a build of toxins and harmful bacteria in the body.
  • Over-the-counter medications like paracetamol can be taken for fever and pain.
  • Probiotics: These are microorganisms that boost the levels of good bacteria in the intestine and help restore gut health. Probiotics are present in certain brands of yogurt and available as supplements.

Medical management:

If the symptoms do not resolve, the doctor may recommend the following:

  • Antibiotics: These can help treat diarrhea caused by bacteria or parasites. If diarrhea is caused by a virus, antibiotics will not kill the virus but can prevent superadded (secondary) bacterial infection.
  • Fluid replacement: First, the patient would be advised to replace the lost fluids and salts orally. This involves drinking water, juice, water containing salt, electrolytes, and vitamins. If the patient is unable to hold liquids due to vomiting or the symptoms don’t improve, IV fluids may be recommended to treat dehydration.
  • Antidiarrheal medication: Loperamide and bismuth subsalicylate may be prescribed in severe cases to reduce the severity and episodes of diarrhea. This must only be taken after consulting a doctor.


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What are the other causes of diarrhea?

Certain medications like antibiotics and anticancer medication can cause diarrhea as a side effect. Other causes include:

  • Lactose intolerance: Lactose is present in dairy products. Some people have difficulty digesting lactose and present with diarrhea after eating dairy products.
  • Artificial sweeteners: Artificial sweeteners in sugar-free products can cause diarrhea.
  • Surgery: Abdominal or gallbladder removal surgeries can alter bowel movements causing diarrhea.
  • Gastrointestinal disorders: Chronic diarrhea occurs due to several medical conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

When should you see a doctor?

Medical attention is required in the following cases:

  • Diarrhea does not resolve in a few days
  • Abdominal pain and cramps worsen
  • Rectal pain
  • Blood in the stools or the stools appear black
  • High-grade fever (above 102 °F/39 °C)
  • Dehydration

Signs of dehydration include:

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