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Differences Between Food Poisoning & Flu

author image August McLaughlin
August McLaughlin is a certified nutritionist and health writer with more than nine years of professional experience. Her work has been featured in various magazines such as "Healthy Aging," "CitySmart," "IAmThatGirl" and "ULM." She holds specializations in eating disorders, healthy weight management and sports nutrition. She is currently completing her second cookbook and Weight Limit—a series of body image/nutrition-related PSAs.
Differences Between Food Poisoning & Flu
Headaches may stem from food poisoning and flu; the flu more commonly causes widespread body aches. Photo Credit headache image by Jarek Miarka from <a href="http://www.fotolia.com">Fotolia.com</a>

Since many food poisoning symptoms emulate those of the flu, it is common to mistake one for the other. In order to reap proper treatment and ensure one's wellness and recovery, knowing the variations between the two may prove helpful. When in doubt, or if symptoms are severe or persist, a medical professional's guidance is recommended


The onset of food poisoning is generally abrupt, and symptoms appear within hours of ingesting contaminated food. The flu, or influenza, often begins with a runny nose, sneezing or sore throat. According to an article published in the New York Times on February 17, 2007, flu symptoms appear 1 to 7 days after one is exposed to the particular flu virus.


Common symptoms between the flu and food poisoning often lead people to confuse one for the other. According to the University of Virginia Health System, food poisoning symptoms may include abdominal cramping, watery or bloody diarrhea, headache, fever, nausea, stomach distention, gas and/or vomiting. The flu may also present itself through aches--though throughout the body and not merely the head--as well as nausea and vomiting. However, the New York Times points out that the flu often causes chills, dizziness, flushed face, lethargy and a high fever, often between 102 and 106 degrees Fahrenheit--symptoms atypical of food poisoning.


Treatment for the flu and food poisoning vary significantly. Since the flu is caused by a virus, symptoms can be reduced through doctor-prescribed anti-viral medication. However, the New York Times states that most people can overcome the flu without need for medication. Common treatment includes rest and over-the-counter medications that help relieve symptoms and allow you to rest. Alcohol, tobacco, aspirin and antibiotics are best avoided.

In mild cases of food poisoning, replenishing fluids and helping to reduce nausea and vomiting symptoms are the primary focus of treatment. Serious instances of food poisoning may require hospitalization, so that fluids can be replaced properly and toxins can be removed properly.


Preventing both the flu and food poisoning are encouraged as effective steps can be taken to reduce your risk. To reduce risk for food poisoning, always wash your hands thoroughly before eating or preparing food. When handling raw meat, wash your hands before coming into contact with other foods. Use plastic or glass cutting boards, since wood may absorb food particles or fluids and thus increase risk of contamination. Cook all meat, poultry, fish and eggs thoroughly prior to eating.

To prevent the flu, the Mayo Clinic suggests annual flu vaccinations, preferably in October or November in order for it to be active prior to flu season, which in the United States occurs between December and March. In addition, wash your hands thoroughly and maintain a healthy dietary and sleeping lifestyle, which support a strong immune system. If you're at high risk for the flu, you may also wish to avoid large crowds during peak flu season, where the virus is more likely to be spread.

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