Distinguishing Food Poisoning From the Flu

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When you’re in the midst of the misery of vomiting, diarrhea or both, it may not feel like it matters whether what you’re suffering from is food poisoning or the flu – but it does.

When illness is a result of pathogens in the food that we’ve eaten, health authorities need to know that so that they can take action regarding food that has been kept improperly or that has been contaminated by unhygienic handling.

How big a problem is food poisoning in the United States? According to the Centers for Disease Control, food poisoning takes a significant annual toll, with 48 million sicknesses, 128,000 of which are serious enough to require hospitalization.

Even more alarming is the fact that there are a reported 3,000 deaths attributed to food poisoning in the United States every year, and that even as high as those numbers are, they are probably inaccurate: food poisoning is often mistaken for the flu, and people fail to seek treatment unless their symptoms become severe.

People Often Think Food Poisoning is A Stomach Bug

Speaking on the difference between food poisoning and a virus, microbiologist Alex Berezow, PhD says, “People say, ‘Oh, I had the 24-hour flu’ or ‘I had the stomach flu.’ Those aren’t things. Probably, you had food poisoning.” Berezow knows what he is talking about: he is vice president of scientific affairs at the nonprofit American Council on Science and Health, and he explains that when a person has food poisoning, it involves a big rush of symptoms that represent the body trying to get rid of the bacteria that has contaminated the food.  By contrast, the flu also has respiratory symptoms, including a sore throat, cough or congestion, and the symptoms are not generally as sudden or as violent.

If you’re not sure whether you have food poisoning or the flu, a good clue is whether anybody that you’ve eaten with or who has eaten the same food that you did is also having the same symptoms. If you get sick enough to require medical care, it is important that you let your health care practitioner know about what you’ve eaten, as when food poisoning occurs the authorities may need to be notified in order to stop the spread of foodborne pathogens.

Author: Terri Oppenheimer

Terri Oppenheimer

Terri Oppenheimer is an independent writer, editor, and proofreader. She graduated from the College of William and Mary with a degree in English. She specializes in providing content for websites and finds tremendous enjoyment in the things she learns while doing her research. Her specific areas of interest include health and fitness, medical research, and the law.