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Are Viral Gastroenteritis & Food Poisoning same?

Often confused to be the same, viral gastroenteritis and food poisoning both manifest in stomach but have different causes. Confusion stems from appearing of similar symptoms.

Viral Gastroenteritis

is commonly known as stomach flu and characterized by inflammation of the intestines. As the name implies, it is primarily an infection caused by a virus, may be rotavirus, astrovirus, enteric adenovirus or norovirus. It spreads through contaminated food or human contact.

Food Poisoning

occurs by infectious organisms like toxins, bacteria or parasites in food and water. Ingestion of contaminated food or water is the main cause of food poisoning. It is never caused by human contact.


Both viral gastroenteritis and food poisoning have almost similar symptoms. In case of viral gastroenteritis, symptoms appear several days after ingestion and lasts for one to three days. For food poisoning, symptoms develop with few hours and are more aggressive than viral gastroenteritis. Symptoms include:

  1. Diarrhoea
  2. Abdominal cramps
  3. Nausea
  4. Vomiting
  5. Loss of appetite
  6. Fever
  7. Fatigue
  8. Bloating

Viral gastroenteritis is also accompanied by chills, headache and muscle ache. These are the differentiating symptoms from food poisoning. It is very hard to accurately tell the difference yourself. So if you experience any of these symptoms for more than a day, it is advisable to immediately contact you medical practitioner. Doctors diagnose using stool or blood sample.


The treatment is also similar for both viral gastroenteritis and food poisoning. If the symptoms are severe, doctors prescribe antibiotics. Otherwise following are recommended for relief:

  1. Plenty of rest
  2. Modifications in diet with more of fluids
  3. Fluid replacement therapy to maintain electrolyte balance
  4. Avoid dairy products, caffeine (tea/coffee), spicy, fatty and fried foods.
  5. Limit intake of fibres like vegetables and fruits except banana


If left untreated and uncared, both can lead to dehydration. If you cite any of the following then get a prompt medical attention:

  1. Continued vomiting
  2. Excessive diarrhoea (more than 4 times a day)
  3. Blood in vomit or stool
  4. Excessive dehydration manifesting as dry mouth, dizziness, rapid breathing or weakness
  5. Rash
  6. High fever that goes up to 101oC

Certain strains of bacteria causing food poisoning may lead to kidney failure if not treated properly. Pay particular attention to these conditions in babies, children and elderly because they are prone to dehydration.


Here are certain things you can bear in mind to prevent the viral gastroenteritis and food poisoning:

  1. Washing hands frequently especially before eating any food
  2. Avoid sharing food, utensils and personal care items
  3. Disinfect cooking areas
  4. Wash food items thoroughly
  5. Cook food to safe temperatures
  6. Don’t keep leftovers for very long.
  7. Avoid eating at unhygienic places



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