Whether you’re keeled over with stomach pains or making regular visits to the porcelain “throne,” you may have stopped to wonder what caused this wave of sickness. Stomach flu and food poisoning have many similarities, so they often leave those affected stumped as to the culprit. Was it the fast food you ate on Friday, or did you come into contact with the stomach flu while babysitting a sick toddler? To make an accurate diagnosis, it’s important to stay abreast of your symptoms; and as always, it never hurts to heed the advice of a professional if symptoms persist.
Viral gastroenteritis – the stomach flu – is a virus that causes intestinal inflammation and a host of other unpleasant side effects. It usually arises when you come into contact with an infected person, or with the gastroenteritis virus itself. Forms of this virus include rotavirus, adenovirus, and the norovirus although the most common is the highly contagious norovirus. Those who consume foods or liquids contaminated with the virus or have direct or indirect contact with those who are infected are at risk for coming down with the flu.
The more widespread virus of the two, food poisoning is a common occurrence that affects one in six Americans, or 48 million people each year. And while it may be more commonplace, its symptoms are pretty concerning. About two to six hours after eating that “bad” burrito, hamburger, or salad, symptoms such as diarrhea, fever, fatigue, headache, muscle aches, thirst, and eye swelling begin to set in.
Food poisoning comes on quickly and typically subsides once the contaminants are expelled from your system; the stomach bug, on the other hand, can stick around for up to ten days. It’s important to be in touch with your physician to ensure that your symptoms are normal and don’t require special attention. While many symptoms overlap between food poisoning and stomach flu, there are some distinct differences to be aware of.
Signs of Concern
Be wary of bloody stools, a rare but serious symptom associated with certain bacterial infections such as E. coli, and brought on by eating undercooked ground beef, or food contaminated by animal feces. One common misconception about foodborne illness is that meat and animal products are the only sources. As it turns out, everything from under-washed veggies and fruits, to unpasteurized beverages, can carry parasites such as the bacterium Escherichia coli or Staphylococcus aureus.
Unfortunately, for those suffering from these two stomach issues, there is no active treatment that your physician can offer you. This is because viruses must complete their lifecycle before leaving the body. However, by ensuring adequate hydration, and avoiding caffeinated, spicy, or fatty foods (that can exacerbate your pain), you’ll be feeling better soon enough.
Seeking Medical Attention
There are several reasons to seek medical attention if you have the stomach flu or food poisoning; they include extreme abdominal pain, blurry vision, fever, diarrhea for three or more days, excessive dehydration, and inability to keep liquids down. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s vital to be in contact with your gastroenterologist or primary care physician (PCP).
Of particular note, stomach viruses can be especially dangerous for children and the elderly who can get dehydrated quickly. If you feel you or someone you care for can not sustain the course of the stomach flu, seek medical attention immediately. They likely will be put on intravenous rehydrating solutions. Another note: if you are the parent of a newborn or toddler, ask your pediatrician about the rotavirus vaccine.
Run by board-certified gastroenterologists trained in the latest medical technologies, Austin Gastroenterology has been serving its community for 37 years and offers clients convenient access courtesy of their eighteen locations. For more information, call 512-244-2273 for Cedar Park, Georgetown, Northwest Creek, and Round Rock, 512-454-4588 for Bailey Square, Manor, St. David’s Plaza, and Westlake, or 512-448-4588 for Bastrop, Dripping Springs, James Casey, Kyle, Lakeway, Marble Falls, River Place, and Southwest Medical Village.