Difference Between Flu and Food Poisoning

Flu vs Food Poisoning

Flu and food poisoning both have common symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. The flu is an illness caused by RNA viruses which infect your respiratory system. There are variants of these flu viruses which cause gastrointestinal disturbances mentioned above. The common term ‘stomach flu’ for this condition is actually a misnomer. The condition is called viral gastroenteritis.

The common food poisoning is usually less sever but in some cases fatal. Both have the same symptoms which make them difficult to diagnose even for physicians.


The true flu viruses affect the respiratory system and cause symptoms similar to that of common cold. The symptoms usually pertain to the respiratory system and occasionally become fatal. The stomach flu is caused by viruses different from the influenza viruses and result in gastrointestinal disturbances.

Viral gastroenteritis occurs due to the exposure to the virus due to poor sanitation or by ingesting contaminated food. It can be considered as a kind of food poisoning since in majority of the cases, the virus gains entry into the system through food. The treatment is same for both the conditions. Keep hydrated and take plenty of rest.

Food Poisoning

Food poisoning is less severe in most cases but can become fatal in exceptions. The symptoms usually include stomach pain, nausea, abdominal cramps, diarrhoea and vomiting. The symptoms usually have a sudden outburst after the ingestion of food. In most cases it affects all or most of the people who have consumed the contaminated food and the symptoms appear in a short time.

Food poisoning usually occurs as an outbreak with symptoms more or less common among the victims. The severity of the symptoms depends on the contaminant which caused the food poisoning. Diarrhoea in its severity can lead to loss of life and has been one of the leading causes of death worldwide.

Difference between Flu and Food Poisoning


Both the diseases have common symptoms such as nausea, diarrhoea, stomach cramps, vomiting etc. Headache, fatigue and fever are the first to show up. The symptoms are usually mild for healthy individuals and recovery is possible within 48 hours. In severe cases, these mild symptoms lead to dehydration and can become fatal.

Causative agent

In case of viral gastroenteritis, the symptoms are caused by viruses whereas in food poisoning, the common agents are bacteria.


Both symptoms appear mild in the outset, but Food poisoning can be quite dangerous in high risk groups such as children and elderly patients. In severe cases of infection it can also lead to death.

Preventive measure

These are common for both. Proper cooking and keeping hygienic surrounding lead to a healthy life. Food poisoning is usually caused by improper cooking or contaminated food. This can be minimized by taking enough precautionary measures while cooking.


Treatments for both the conditions involve preventing the body from getting dehydrated. Administer plenty of fluids and take rest. Medications usually aim to treat the symptoms, although diarrhoea is a natural defensive mechanism for the body to eliminate the bacteria. The risk of dehydration should be reduced.


The diagnosis is difficult and doctors will usually prefer to conduct further microbiological tests for confirmation only in severe cases. The best way to find the possible reason as food poisoning is to observe the occurrence of similar symptoms in people who have consumed the same food sample

The terms are misunderstood since the symptoms do not differ much. In either case, the body’s immune responses fight in the same way. Hence the same sort of medicines will help in treatment. However since the severity can never be predicted it is wise to get the proper medical care without delay. If the symptoms get severe, then it is better to narrow down to the causative agent and administers drugs targeted for the microbe. Taking plenty of fluids may help most patients to recover within 24 hours but the fatigue may prevail for a couple of days. Fortified food and drinks which supply nutrition are extremely good to keep the body well hydrated.

  • George Myers

    I’ve had flu symptoms for three days. I’ve been wiped out with a high fever. I had lunch at a Jack in the Box. The tacos didn’t taste right. Now I’m thinking of food poisoning. I don’t know what to take. I know I won’t be back to Jack’s!