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Is It a Stomach Virus or Food Poisoning? Here are 4 Ways to Find Out

Winter is here, and along with it, the usual host of contagious diseases such as the flu and stomach virus. Most of us will get sick at least once with one of these every winter.

But sometimes the stomach virus is a mysterious animal. In light of all the recent outbreaks of food poisoning around the country in various fast food chains and processed food factories, how do we actually know if what we are suffering from is a stomach virus, or food poisoning, and does it matter which one it is?

Actually, yes. It is certainly helpful to know what you are dealing with when it comes to illness, as this can help you make decisions on what medications or remedies to take, if any, and whether or not it might be necessary to make a trip to the Emergency Room. Stomach viruses, while unpleasant, can generally be carefully rested out over a few days, but some cases of food poisoning may be severe enough to require extra help from the hospital.

So here are 5 ways you can tell the difference between food poisoning and a stomach bug.

1. Stomach viruses may start out with other symptoms like a fever and coughing/congestion, and eventually progress to more unpleasant symptoms like diarrhea and vomiting. However, food poisoning will happen much more rapidly, as it only takes hours for the tainted food to enter your system after ingesting it. So if you had dinner and felt perfectly fine, then woke up in the middle of the night throwing up, it might be food poisoning, not a stomach virus.

2. The duration and intensity of symptoms. While the stomach flu could hang around for days or occasionally even weeks, starting slowly, building up and then slowly dying down, food poisoning is going to go away as quickly as it started – generally within a period of one day. Food poisoning is also going to attack you more violently, as it tries to expel the identified poison from your body as quickly as it can. This can cause severe dehydration, so watch out.

3. Is it hitting everyone in your family at the same time? If you all start having symptoms within the same few hours, it is probably food poisoning. A stomach virus is more likely to pass through family members with an overlap of days.

4. Pain in your abdominal area. Both illnesses produce different types and levels of pain in your body. Whereas food poisoning is going to cause very sharp and stab like pains, a stomach virus is more likely to produce just a general achy feeling in your abdomen.