How to Tell the Difference Between the Flu and Food Poisoning

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Stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, dharma, fatigue. These are symptoms of both food poisoning and the flu. The onset of the two ailments can be so similar-particularly in severe cases-its easy to misidentify one as the other.

One reason we have confusion is because there are misnomers, says Alex Berezow, PhD, a microbiologist and vice president of scientific affairs at the nonprofit American Council on Science and Health. People say, Oh, I had the 24-hour flu or I had the stomach flu. Those arent things. Probably, you had food poisoning.

Foodborne illnesses, colloquially known as food poisoning, are the result of pathogens traveling in food thats unhygienic or ill kept. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that foodborne illnesses cause 48 million sicknesses, 128,000 hospitalizations, and 3,000 deaths in the United States each year. Food poisoning, however, is probably under-reported, says Aaron Glatt, MD, a clinician at South Nassau Communities Hospital and spokesperson for the Infectious Disease Society of America. Minor cases rarely make it to the hospitals and into data.

Influenza, colloquially known as the flu, is a contagious respiratory illness spread mainly through bodily fluids containing the virus, and is incredibly common in the winter months. In the most recent 12-month span for which the CDC kept numbers (including parts of 2017 and 2018), 80,000 Americans died from the flu , but it was a particularly bad flu season. Usually, the annual death toll is between 12,000 to 56,000.

Fatalities from both are rare, relative to the vast commonality of the illnesses, said Berezow, and usually occur through uncommonly severe virus strains and/or in people who are very young or old or who have some condition that compromises their immune system. As for how to tell one from another? Here’s some advice:

While a severe flu can devastate the G.I. tract, a rush of gastrointestinal symptoms, particularly vomiting and diarrhea, usually means food poisoning, Berezow says. The body is trying to purge itself of the offending food.

Repertory and sinus issues, however, are not usual signs of food poisoning. There is typically a lack of additional symptoms, [such as] cough, congestion, sore throat, seen with other illnesses such as colds and flus, said Edward Fog, DO, associate medical director of the AtlantiCare Physician Group, near Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Fevers occur in food poisoning. Thats just a sign of inflammation and the bodys way of showing the immune system is activated, says Jack Springer, MD, an emergency physician and assistant professor at the Northwell School of Medicine at Hofstra University. But fever is rare and it usually burns at lower temperatures than in cases of a flu.

Of course, check with dining who companions who may have also had that suspect-seeming potato salad. Its hard to tell [the source of the illness] unless your mom and brother ate the same thing and have also been puking for four hours, Springer says.

Both flus and food poisoning generally run their course, food poisoning in a day or so and the flu in a week and dont require medical intervention, just rest and hydration-in most cases. People who are unusually hard hit by illness (the elderly, children, those with compromised immune systems) should seek a physicians care, as should anyone plagued by symptoms that are particularly painful or long-lasting.

Otherwise, wait it out. Suffering is part of life, Springer says, and having diarrhea for three or four days is a lot of suffering, but nature will take its course.

Source: Men’s health

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