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Is It Food Poisoning or the Flu? Here’s How to Tell


Everyone looks forward to holiday festivities when winter rolls around, but the cold season also often comes with a much less merry side effect: sick days. By the time we see December, the dreaded flu season is usually in full swing. (That’s why it’s so important to make sure you get your flu shot!) We’re also eating all of our favorite treats while celebrating Christmas and the New Year — some of which don’t always agree with our tummies. There are few worse feelings of betrayal than indulging in a delicious dish, only to have food poisoning cause you misery.

With both of those being common around this time of year, you might be wondering which affliction you’re actually experiencing when your stomach starts acting up. Here’s a breakdown of the symptoms for food poisoning and stomach flu, according to the Mayo Clinic:

Symptoms of Food Poisoning

  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever

Symptoms of Stomach Flu

  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Low-grade fever
  • Head and body aches

As you can see, they’re both pretty similar when it comes to these painful symptoms. The main difference seems to be the overall body aches that often signal a case of the flu rather than any food-based illness. The norovirus is the leading cause for both stomach flu and food poisoning, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but the latter can also be triggered by bacterial infections like E. coli and salmonella.

Unfortunately, the only treatment for both of these awful illnesses tends to be just waiting it out. It’s also important to get plenty of fluids (including electrolytes!), lots of rest, and taking it easy on what you eat. The Mayo Clinic recommends seeing a doctor if you’re unable to keep liquids down for 24 hours, you find blood in your vomit or diarrhea, you experience vomiting or diarrhea for more than two or three days, your vision becomes blurry, or you maintain a fever over 100 degrees. Whichever the case may be, it’s important to pay attention to your symptoms so you can feel better as quickly as possible.

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