24 October 2017

Is it food poisoning or a stomach bug?

People often wonder whether their symptoms are caused by a virus or by something they ate.

Are you feeling sick to your stomach and not sure if you’re suffering from a stomach bug or have food poisoning?

This is a very common question. On the surface, food poisoning and a stomach bug (gastroenteritis) seem similar, with symptoms like abdominal cramping, fever, chills, nausea and vomiting, diarrhoea, and headaches.

Food poisoning

Food poisoning is caused by eating food containing viruses, bacteria, parasites or chemical toxins.

The symptoms of food poisoning vary, depending on type of toxin that has entered your food or drink.

A previous Health24 article reported that most symptoms will clear up after a few days, but that you should seek medical attention if:

  • The source of the contamination is unknown
  • You’ve eaten mushrooms or seafood
  • You have bloody diarrhoea
  • Breathing problems
  • Vomiting and diarrhoea persist after 48 hours
  • You are a pregnant woman, an infant or elderly person
  • Your immunity is compromised by some other infectious disease
  • You develop a fever

Stomach bug

A stomach bug is a virus that attacks and infects the digestive system.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most common cause of the stomach bug is norovirus.

Noroviruses are spread via the faeces and vomit of infected humans and animals.

It can be transmitted by consuming contaminated food or drink, or touching an infected person or surface with your hand and then touching your mouth.

Medical attention should be sought if the following symptoms are present:

  • Blood in urine or faeces
  • Inability to keep liquid down for at least 24 hours
  • Dehydration
  • A high fever (above 40°C)

Image credit: iStock


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