Centers Urgent Care

Stomach Bug Or Food Poisoning: Know The Difference


Anyone who’s ever felt the unpleasant effects of nausea knows how miserable a stomach illness can be. But what’s the difference between a stomach bug and food poisoning? Read on to learn about these two conditions and how to handle them if they strike your family.

What are the Differences in Symptoms?

Symptoms of the Stomach Bug

If you’re unlucky enough to contract the stomach flu, your symptoms can include the following:

  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting 
  • Abdominal cramps and pain
  • Low-grade fever
  • Chills 
  • Headaches
  • Joint and muscles pain
  • Dehydration and thirst
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • A general feeling of being unwell

Symptoms of Food Poisoning

If you have food poisoning, you may have mild or sever symptoms,  including:

  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting 
  • Abdominal cramping 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Fever and chills 
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Weight loss
  • Weakness and fatigue 
  • Muscle aches
  • Headaches
  • Sweating
  • Dehydration and thirst
  • Blood in your stool or when you throw up
  • Symptoms of shock
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Severe abdominal pain

The Difference Between a Stomach Bug and Food Poisoning

SymptomsStomach BugFood Poisoning
Stomach cramps and painMild to moderateCan be severe
Fever Low grade High – above 100.3℉
Loss of appetite
Weakness and fatigue
Muscle and joint aches
Dehydration and thirst
Blood in vomit or stool
Loss of consciousness
Weight loss
General malaise

Now that you know how to differentiate between these two sets of symptoms, let’s examine their causes.

What are the Differences in Causes?

So, how can you protect yourself from contracting these uncomfortable conditions? The first step is understanding what causes each so you know how to avoid falling sick with either. Here’s a breakdown.

What Causes the Stomach Bug?

Stomach bugs are usually caused by viruses, tiny germs that can cause illnesses in people. These viruses can be passed from person to person, and many of them cause stomach bugs. 

Most of these viruses are spread through contact with infected people, touching contaminated surfaces, sharing contaminated food or water, or even breathing in the virus from the air. 

Here are some of the viruses that cause a stomach bug:

  • Norovirus 
  • Rotavirus
  • Adenoviruses 
  • Astrovirus
  • Sapoviruses 
  • Coronaviruses

Knowing which virus is causing your stomach bug can aid you in getting the treatment you need to recover fully. Now let’s check out the leading causes of food poisoning so you can avoid it.

What Causes Food Poisoning?

Simply put, food poisoning is caused by consuming food contaminated with bacteria, parasites, viruses, or toxins. If you’re not careful, you can contract food poisoning by:

  • Eating raw or undercooked meat and poultry 
  • Drinking and eating dairy products like unpasteurized milk, cheese, and ice cream
  • Eating raw eggs 
  • Consuming fruits and vegetables that have not been washed properly 
  • Drinking water from an unclean source  
  • Eating food prepared in unsanitary conditions (such as at a picnic or buffet)  
  • Consuming raw fish such as sushi or shellfish like oysters and clams
  • Eating meats that have not been cooked thoroughly
  • Drinking unpasteurized juices or cider
  • Washing hands improperly or not washing them at all before preparing food or eating
  • Failing to refrigerate foods promptly after cooking them

Food poisoning can be caused by various sources, from contaminated food to improper food preparation. If not treated carefully, complications can arise. Let’s take a look.

Treatment Options for Either Condition

You don’t have to suffer needlessly with a stomach bug or food poisoning. You can take steps to help you feel better and manage your symptoms.

Treating a Stomach Bug

When you’re dealing with a stomach bug, the first step is to give yourself time to rest and recuperate from the virus. This may be difficult in the moment, but taking it easy is a priority for your recovery. 

You should also drink lots of fluids – water, tea, and other clear liquids are best – and limit sugary drinks or sodas, as these can make you feel worse. Once you’re feeling up to it again, start by introducing bland foods into your diet that are easier on your digestive system, such as:

  • Cereals
  • Whole grains
  • Bread
  • Potatoes
  • Bananas 
  • Cooked vegetables like squash or sweet potatoes

Fresh apples with plain yogurt are also excellent choices, as is a banana smoothie or oatmeal if you’re up to it. You may need medical attention if your symptoms stick around longer than a few days. 

Regardless of how long the virus lasts, remember to be patient with yourself and take care of your body by getting plenty of rest and eating nourishing foods until you feel better. Next, on to possible treatments for food poisoning.

Treating Food Poisoning

For mild cases of food poisoning, rest is often the best treatment. In addition, drinking plenty of fluids can help prevent dehydration from vomiting or diarrhea. 

Over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen for fever or anti-diarrheal medicines can also be helpful in soothing the symptoms and reducing discomfort. 

If you experience any of the following, you should see your doctor immediately:

  • Blood or mucus in your stool 
  • Diarrhea lasting longer than 24 hours in children or two days in adults 
  • Adults with a fever higher than 102°F (38.8°C) and children above 101°F (38.3°C) 
  • Signs of dehydration such as fatigue and excessive thirst 
  • Symptoms associated with botulism 
  • Illness due to eating food while traveling in an underdeveloped country

Now that you know how to handle each of these illnesses, let’s make sure you don’t have to put these tips into practice.

Tips for Prevention

Here, we’ll unpack how to prevent contracting each of these illnesses.

Preventing the Stomach Bug

Tips for avoiding stomach bugs in adults and children include:


  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. 
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick. 
  • Stay home when you’re feeling under the weather. 
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily in shared household areas like door handles, countertops, light switches, toilet flush handles, etc. 


  • Help children to wash their hands regularly or use hand sanitizer if they can’t access soap and water. 
  • Teach children not to touch their faces or put things in their mouths. 
  • Discourage children from sharing drinks, food, or other items with others.
  • Make sure children are up to date on all vaccinations.

Now here’s strategies for preventing food poisoning.

Preventing Food Poisoning

Follow these steps to keep yourself and your loved ones healthy.

  • Maintain sanitation of work surfaces, tools, and hands while preparing food. 
  • Make sure ground beef is heated to 160°F (71°C). 
  • Cook roasts, steaks, and chops to 145°F (62°C). 
  • Check that poultry reaches a temperature of 165°F (73°C). 
  • Fully cook seafood before consuming. 
  • Only purchase canned goods from reliable sources. 
  • Refrigerate all perishable items within an hour after purchase or preparation. 
  • Discard any edibles that appear or smell suspicious. 
  • Exercise caution when drinking water while travelling in industrialized countries.

If by some chance you’ve followed all these tips and you still suspect you might have food poisoning or a stomach bug, when should you go to urgent care? There are signs that will give you a clue.

When to Visit Urgent Care

Knowing when to head to urgent care when you’re sick can help you get the care you need quickly and safely. 

  • Stomach Bug Symptoms: If your symptoms persist beyond two days or become severe enough that home remedies don’t seem to be helping, it might be time to see a medical professional.
  • Food Poisoning Symptoms: Food poisoning symptoms can vary in severity and might not show up immediately. If your symptoms include severe abdominal pain, diarrhea with blood or other signs of dehydration, such as dizziness or confusion, you should seek medical attention immediately. 

When it’s hard to tell whether your symptoms are from a stomach bug or food poisoning, it’s best to err on the side of caution and head for urgent care. Better to be safe than sorry!


It’s important to know the difference between a stomach bug and food poisoning. Viruses usually cause stomach bugs, while bacteria typically cause food poisoning, and both conditions share many common symptoms.

The most important thing to remember is that if your symptoms become severe or last longer than usual, it’s best to seek medical attention at an urgent care or emergency room as soon as possible. 

So keep these differences in mind – being aware can help you treat your illness quickly and get back on track feeling better sooner!

Centers Urgent Care is here for all your medical needs. Our experienced providers are ready to help. Find a location closest to you here.

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