Stomach Virus versus Food Poisoning: Symptoms and Guidelines


  • Symptoms of food poisoning include stomach cramping, fatigue, diarrhea or constipation, fever, chills, muscle aches, headaches, sweating, thirst, general malaise.
  • Symptoms usually appear 2 to 6 hours after initial exposure.
  • Symptoms usually resolve within two days.
  • Food poisoning occurs most commonly in babies, young children, and the elderly.
  • Food poisoning is more common than a stomach virus (about 1 in 6 Americans experience food poisoning each year).
  • Food poisoning is caused by consuming food contaminated by bacteria (e.g., Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus), viruses, or parasites.
  • Contaminated food can include undercooked meat, raw or undercooked eggs, raw sprouts, soft or unpasteurized cheeses (e.g., Brie and feta), vegetables and fruits that aren’t well-washed, raw fish or oysters, contaminated water, unpasteurized beverages (e.g., milk, cider, juice), and undercooked rice.
  • Not typically lethal, but botulism, a food contaminate caused by Clostridium botulinum bacteria, is fatal if not treated properly. Symptoms include blurred vision, drooping eyelids, and slurred speech. Botulism is extremely rare in the United States.
  • Mild cases of food poisoning might respond well to rest and fever-reducing medications.
  • Food poisoning is more likely than stomach virus to require medical attention due to symptom severity.
  • Food poisoning might require antibiotics.
  • Contact your doctor if there is blood or pus in your stool, if diarrhea lasts more than five days in adults or more than two days in infants or young children, if you have persistent diarrhea coupled with a fever above 101°F (38°C) in adults or above 100.4°F (38°C) in children, if dehydrated, if you have symptoms of botulism, if your symptoms appear after visiting a developing country, and/or if you have severe abdominal cramping, shock, or loss of consciousness.


  • Symptoms of a stomach virus include diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, fever, weight loss, joint aches, and muscle aches.
    • Symptoms will usually appear within 24 to 48 hours of being exposed to the virus.
    • Stomach virus is most commonly caused by norovirus, rotavirus, or adenovirus.
    • Stomach virus is highly contagious; it can be caught from direct contact with a sick person or direct contact with infected stool or vomit.
    • Some over-the-counter medications can make a stomach virus worse, including some anti-diarrhea medications. Check with your doctor before taking any medications.
    • A stomach virus typically lasts 24 to 28 hours but can last as long as 10 days.
    • See a doctor if there is blood in your stool or vomit, if you’re unable to keep liquid down for at least 24 hours, or if you’re dehydrated or have a fever above 104 ̊ F.
    • Flu vaccine and antibiotics are ineffective.
    • The virus is most contagious while symptoms are present and for a few days afterward.
    • The virus can stay in your stool for up to two weeks.
    • Wash your hands often, and stay home from work or school for at least three days after feeling better.

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