It comes on suddenly, sometimes in the middle of the night. Your forehead is clammy, and your stomach feels like a rock. You start pleading with the universe not to vomit, but your words go unnoticed as you rocket out of bed and to your bathroom. You are sick, but is it something you ate (maybe the grocery store sushi?), or could it be a stomach bug? If you have a high fever, chest pain, difficulty breathing, or are vomiting blood, seek emergency treatment right away. Otherwise, if you’re feeling ill and have a fever and upset stomach, read on to understand the differences in symptoms between a stomach virus and food poisoning.
Fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation, abdominal cramps, joint stiffness, weight loss
Fever, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue and malaise, muscle aches, headache, sweating. eye swelling, difficulty breathing, thirst
A parasite, bacteria, or a virus
One to two days
Two to six hours
Food poisoning caused by certain bacteria, viruses, or parasites is contagious; when caused by chemicals or toxins found in the food, it is not contagious
There is no effective treatment for viral enteritis; for children, the elderly, and immunocompromised adults, it could be deadly, so prevention is crucial
The most common food poisoning risk factor is dehydration, however for infants, seniors, and immunocompromised adults, severe dehydration may require hospitalization, and in the most severe cases, dehydration can be fatal
Protecting yourself from a stomach virus is similar to the techniques you should be following to protect yourself from COVID-19. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least twenty seconds, avoid touching your face, minimize exposure to people with symptoms, or who have been exposed to the virus.
While the symptoms of a viral infection and food poisoning are similar, not surprisingly, the preventive measures are different. When cooking, especially with raw meat, seafood, and eggs, keep your food preparation area and equipment clean. Cook meat and seafood thoroughly to recommended temperatures, keep perishable foods refrigerated and do not consume food items that have passed their expiration date. If an item smells, looks, or tastes funny, throw it out.
There are over 250 types of foodborne illnesses that can be categorized as having one of three causes:
Do not feel the pressure to diagnose the cause of your symptoms. Adults should contact their doctor when experiencing viral enteritis—or possibly food poisoning—symptoms if:
If you are a parent and your child is experiencing any of the following, contact your doctor right away:
For most people who contract viral enteritis or food poisoning, the symptoms—though terribly uncomfortable, will pass. Still, if you have any concerns over your symptoms or escalate into the noted severe warning signs, contact your doctor. They will determine if a telemedicine or in-person appointment is best to provide a diagnosis and treatment plan.