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Food Poisoning vs. Stomach Flu: What's the Difference?

Learn the critical differences between the causes, treatments, and symptoms of food poisoning and stomach flu with ivee.

Food poisoning and stomach flu can cause uncomfortable symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and cramps. However, while these illnesses can make you miserable with similar symptoms, their causes and treatments have some differences.

Causes of Food Poisoning and the Stomach Flu

Food poisoning and stomach flu both have their own unique causes. Below are the main factors that can make you sick with each.

Food Poisoning

Food poisoning, also known as food-borne illness, is caused by eating food that is contaminated with viruses, bacteria, or parasites, also known as infectious organisms, and all of these organisms can make you feel sick.

Food can become unsafe to eat – and potentially make you sick – when it's improperly cooked or stored the wrong way before you eat it. Sometimes, the source of contamination enters the picture before the food is even harvested.

Illness-causing organisms may also start growing on the food due to cross-contamination, which occurs when the food is exposed to harmful microorganisms while it is being grown or processed.

Some of the most common causes of food poisoning are the following bacteria, viruses, and parasites:


An infectious bacteria that causes around 1.5 million cases of illness every year in the U.S. alone. This bacteria can make you sick when you're exposed to it in raw or improperly cooked poultry.

Campylobacter can also be present in other foods, including meats, seafood, and even produce. In addition, you can be exposed to campylobacter in water.

According to the CDC, food-borne illness caused by this bacteria often requires treatment with antibiotics.

E. coli

Escherichia coli, better known as E. coli, are a type of bacteria that can grow on foods, plants, and animals. There are multiple strains of this bacteria, and some are harmless, but others can cause food-borne illness.

The symptoms of food-borne illness from E. coli can vary, but they often include frequent urination, respiratory problems, and gastrointestinal issues.


This type of germ spreads through feces, and it can contaminate food due to poor hand hygiene. Giardia germs can also be found in water.

Hepatitis A

This type of liver infection is caused by eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water, but it is preventable with a vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend getting a vaccine to help minimize the risk of hepatitis.

Listeria monocytogenes

This type of bacteria can contaminate food and cause serious illness. It causes a disease called Listeriosis, which can develop symptoms like nausea, a high fever, and diarrhea.


This type of bacteria can make you sick when you improperly prepare or cook chicken, eggs, beef, or pork. Symptoms of the salmonella-related illness include diarrhea, a fever, and other common signs of food poisoning.

Stomach Flu

Stomach flu, also known as viral gastroenteritis, is a type of intestinal infection that passes from person to person. Like a virus, stomach flu can be contagious, meaning you might pick it up at work, school, or anywhere else where you might unknowingly encounter a sick person.

The most common cause of stomach flu is rotavirus, which can easily spread from person to person. Less common causes of viral gastroenteritis include adenovirus and astrovirus.

Symptoms of Food Poisoning and the Stomach Flu

Food poisoning and stomach flu can both cause many of the same symptoms, but there are often telltale signs that can help you figure out which illness you have.

Let's explore some of the symptoms that both of these illnesses can cause, as well as some that you'll only experience with either food poisoning or stomach flu.

Food Poisoning

Some of the most common symptoms of food poisoning are different forms of gastrointestinal distress. That means stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Food-borne illness can also cause a fever, which is typically a sign that your body is fighting off a bacterial or viral infection of some kind.

Stomach Flu

Like food poisoning, a stomach bug can cause GI-related symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. In addition, you may run a fever while fighting off a stomach virus. Other symptoms include loss of appetite, struggling to keep food down, and, in some cases, headaches and muscle aches.

While food poisoning and stomach flu can cause many of the same symptoms, there are a few key signs that may indicate that you're dealing with a food-borne illness, not just an ordinary bug.

The main distinction between the symptoms of these illnesses is when they happen. In a case of food poisoning, your symptoms can usually be traced back to something you ate. With a stomach bug, on the other hand, symptoms can arise seemingly without warning.

Treating Food Poisoning and the Stomach Flu

The process of diagnosing and treating stomach flu and food poisoning is sometimes similar – but often different.

When you visit your doctor and get diagnosed with a food-borne illness, you're likely to be advised to approach this type of sickness a bit differently from your average stomach bug.

Here's how treatment for stomach flu and food poisoning works and how the treatment strategies for the two illnesses differ.

Food Poisoning

To get a food poisoning diagnosis, your doctor will look at your symptoms and talk to you about any potentially contaminated foods you might have been eating recently. Then, your doctor may recommend taking a blood or stool test to determine if any parasites are present.

While tracing back the cause of your illness can be helpful, many cases of food poisoning can't necessarily be linked to a specific cause. In most cases, your doctor will focus more on treatment than identifying where you got food poisoning.

The main treatment for food poisoning is antibiotics. This type of medication can help when a bacterium causes food poisoning, but it isn't necessarily a one-size-fits-all treatment. In some cases, your doctor may simply recommend that you get as much rest and drink as many fluids as possible to recover.

Stomach Flu

There's no treatment for a stomach bug, but there are plenty of ways to start feeling better faster. Here are some tips for dealing with stomach flu symptoms:

  • Drinking plenty of fluids, especially water, to prevent dehydration. Replenishing your electrolytes with drinks like Gatorade or Pedialyte can be helpful, especially if you've been vomiting or had diarrhea.
  • Stick to foods that go down easy and won't make your nausea worse. These include crackers, toast, bananas, applesauce, and other easy-to-consume snacks.
  • Get plenty of rest. Your stomach flu symptoms can quickly make you feel worn out, and it can be tough to stay awake and keep going through the day like you normally would. Because of the excessive fatigue that a stomach bug can cause, you can benefit from sleeping more than you normally would. Stay in bed all day if you have to – being sick is just about the only thing that gives you an excuse to do that!

Either Way, ivee Can Help You Recover

Dealing with a stomach bug or a case of food poisoning can be tough, but ivee is here to help you get the relief you need.

If you're stuck at home feeling sick and exhausted, one of our IV therapy treatments is exactly what you need. Formulated with a mix of essential nutrients, a hydrating solution, and more, ivee is tailor-made to help your body make a speedy recovery when you’re sick.

When you book an at-home IV treatment with ivee, one of our Registered Nurses comes straight to your door in as soon as two hours, and takes care of the entire process of setting up and administering your IV treatment.

Your Registered Nurse can help you navigate any questions or concerns that you might have about treatment, and they’ll be with you the entire time, making sure you’re comfortable and safe. That means all you have to do is sit back and relax!

Being sick can be tough, food poisoning or stomach flu alike, but it can be a lot easier when you have on-demand access to treatment.

With ivee, that’s exactly what you get.

Learn more about our at-home treatment options and how they can help you feel better sooner by clicking here.


Rotavirus | CDC

Campylobacter (Campylobacteriosis) | Campylobacter | CDC

Viral gastroenteritis (stomach flu) - Symptoms and causes | Mayo Clinic


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