When it’s More Than a Stomach Rumble

Stomach Flu vs. Food Poisoning

Your stomach is upset. You feel weak. You can’t keep food or beverages down and perhaps have a bad case of diarrhea. Digestive issues are never pleasant and symptoms can be impossible to ignore. Very often, the problem is caused by either a stomach flu or food poisoning. Because these conditions tend to have very similar symptoms, it can be difficult to pinpoint the actual culprit.

One of the main differences between the stomach flu and food poisoning is that the stomach flu is caused by a virus that can be contagious while food poisoning is the result of eating contaminated food and is not contagious. In severe cases, both conditions can easily cause dehydration and dehydration can lead to other sometimes serious health issues.

Whether you have the stomach flu or food poisoning, it is most important to respond appropriately to your symptoms. Always consult your doctor if you go several hours without being able to drink or eat, suffer with extreme stomach or abdominal pain, see blood in your vomit or stool, find it difficult to speak or swallow, show signs of dehydration, have a high fever, or experience any other worrisome symptoms. Always play it safe by seeking medical attention when in doubt.

If your symptoms are mild to moderate, they may go away fairly quickly with rest and plenty of fluids. Keep yourself well hydrated by drinking water and clear liquids like ginger ale and chicken broth. If keeping fluids down is a challenge, try taking frequent small sips or let ice chips melt in your mouth. Once you’re able to eat food without vomiting and/or diarrhea, consume only very bland foods until your stomach begins to feel better. Foods like unseasoned chicken, rice, dry toast, and crackers are usually easiest to digest.

The following are general suggestions that may help keep the stomach flu and food poisoning at bay. Ask your doctor for his or her recommendations.

Tips that May Help Prevent the Stomach Flu

  • Keep your hands clean. Wash your hands frequently with soap or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, especially after being in a bathroom and before eating.​

  • Avoid sharing items that may carry germs. Many of the things we use every day can be germ carriers, including eating utensils, drinking glasses, and towels.​

  • Stay clear of ill people. The stomach flu is contagious. If you know someone has the stomach flu, make sure to keep your distance. Avoid contact with anyone who has recently vomited or experienced diarrhea.

Tips that May Help Prevent Food Poisoning

  • Check expiration dates. Discard food once it passes the expiration or “use by” date.​

  • Be careful when working with raw foods. It is essential to keep raw and cooked foods separate. To avoid contamination, do not use the same utensils or cutting boards to prepare different food items without a thorough washing. Also wash your hands well when working with raw foods.​

  • Take care with leftovers. Many people find the 2-2-4 rule helpful when dealing with leftovers. The rule involves storing leftovers within 2 hours, storing foods in shallow containers no more than 2 inches deep, and eating leftovers within 4 days.​

  • Be observant when dining out. Dine only in restaurants inspected by the Board of Health and avoid those that do not appear to be clean.​

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