Difference Between Flu and Food Poisoning

Main Difference – Flu vs Food Poisoning

Flu and food poisoning are common diseases or medical conditions that disrupt our day to day life. The main difference between flu and food poisoning is that flu primarily attacks the respiratory system of a person whereas food poisoning affects the gastrointestinal tract. 

This article explores, 

1. What is Flu?
     – Cause, Signs and Symptoms, Treatment

2. What is Food Poisoning?
     – Cause, Signs and Symptoms, Treatment

3. What is the difference between Flu and Food Poisoning?Difference Between Flu and Food Poisoning - Comparison Summary

What is Flu

Flu, also known as influenza, is usually considered as a respiratory illness caused by a viral agent. This may affect your entire respiratory system including the nose, throat, and lungs ultimately ending up in a disastrous situation, if not treated properly.

According to latest research studies conducted by WHO, more than 5% of individuals are caught by flu annually out of which more than 200,000 have to get hospitalized due to flu-related complications.

Signs and Symptoms

Common signs and symptoms of Flu include,

  • Moderate to high fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle and joint pains
  • Chills and sweats
  • Dry cough
  • Nasal congestion
  • Weakness and fatigability
  • Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea (if complicated with stomach flu or gastroenteritis)


Treatment for flu due to a viral agent includes well-maintained hydration and rest. The illness will resolve spontaneously within about a week without leaving any residual symptoms.

Main Difference - Flu vs Food Poisoning

What is Food Poisoning

Food poisoning, also known as Traveler’s diarrhea, is caused by various bacterial agents, viruses, and parasites which are known to disrupt the anatomy and physiology of the intestinal tract in our body.

According to research studies, about 1 in 6 individuals in the USA get affected by food poisoning each year with about 120,000 hospital admissions and 3000 deaths. In that case, the morbidity and mortality associated with food poisoning seem to be comparatively higher than other infections.


The commonest cause of this illness is the consumption of food items contaminated with toxic products created by bacteria, virus, and parasites. Improper food handling and ingestion of polluted food can easily result in various sorts of disturbances in our body, ultimately showing out signs and symptoms when the pathogen load exceeds the tolerable level inside the body.


  • Campylobacter jejuni
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Salmonella
  • Bacillus cereus
  • Escherichia coli


  • Hepatitis A
  • Rota virus

Signs and Symptoms

Most of the patients affected by food poisoning will experience,

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Watery diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain and cramps
  • Moderate to high fever


The hallmark for the treatment of food poisoning includes the killing of the responsible pathogen using antibiotics (bacteria) and symptomatic management. It is always necessary to correct dehydration and electrolyte abnormalities to prevent complications.


Prevention of food poisoning is easy if you follow these simple steps in handling, cooking and storing food.

  • Wash and clean your hands before preparing meals and serving them.
  • Wash all the cutting boards, utensils, ingredients and food items before the usage.
  • Avoid Cross-Contamination – Always try to minimize the contamination of raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs from already prepared food which is a proven way of halting the spread of pathogenic organisms.
  • Using proper temperatures for cooking food, especially meat. High temperatures can usually kill harmful bacteria
  • Prompt refrigeration – this will always slow down or minimize the growth of harmful bacteria (preferably below 40°F)Difference Between Flu and Food Poisoning

Difference Between Flu and Food Poisoning


Flu, also known as Influenza, is usually considered to be a respiratory illness caused by a viral agent.

Food poisoning or traveler’s diarrhea is caused by various bacterial agents, viruses, and parasites which are known to disrupt the anatomy and physiology of the gastrointestinal tract.


The major etiology of flu involves the Influenza virus

Food poisoning can occur as a result of various bacterial, viral or parasitic infections. 

Signs and Symptoms 

The major signs and symptoms of flu include moderate to high fever, headache, muscle and joint pains, chills and sweats, dry cough, nasal congestion, weakness, and fatigability. 

Food poisoning will mainly present high fever and gastric disturbances like nausea, vomiting, and loose stools.


Flu is not that severe when compared to food poisoning, especially when the latter has occurred as a result of a bacterial pathogen. It could possibly give rise to fatal outcomes such as dehydration, coma, confusion, and death.


Both flu and food poisoning can be managed symptomatically. Patients with nausea should be treated with fluid replacement and correction of electrolyte imbalances. Patients with fever should be given Paracetemol which should be followed by antibiotic treatment after identifying the exact etiology.

Image Courtesy:

“sneeze” by Tina Franklin (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

“Symptoms-stomach-pain” By CDC (Public Domain) via Commons Wikimedia

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