Food Poisoning Vs Flu: How To Tell The Difference

Norovirus, a type of food poisoning, can play tricks on the mind. The symptoms are sometimes flu-like, making you wonder what you’re faced with. This is never fun, especially during flu season! Instead of playing a guessing game, learn the difference between norovirus food poisoning and the flu.

What Is Norovirus Food Poisoning?

Norovirus is caused by contaminated food, water, and human contact.


When it comes to the causes of food poisoning, norovirus takes the first place. It is spread through contaminated food, water, and human contact. Often, improper food handling is the reason behind an outbreak. Norovirus is extremely contagious.1 As a type of gastroenteritis, it causes inflammation in the stomach and intestines.2

It shows symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, stomach pain, fever, and body aches, which are similar to the ones seen in the flu. Diarrhea isn’t bloody, but it can be very watery.3 The signs are so similar that norovirus is often called the “stomach flu.”


What Is The Flu?

Flu is caused by a virus that can affect the respiratory system

Flu, or influenza, is also caused by a virus. It’s transmitted through the air and enters through the nose and mouth, causing a respiratory infection.4 The flu is so contagious that a part of the year is nicknamed “flu season.” Major symptoms include chills, muscle aches, fever, coughing, sore throat, congestion, headache, and fatigue.5


How To Tell The Difference

1. Duration

Norovirus lasts for 3 days, but the flu lasts longer

In 1 to 3 days, a healthy person with norovirus will feel better.6 If the symptoms hang around, visit the doctor. You might be dealing with the flu, which takes 2 weeks to fizzle out.7 The doctor can give you a confirmation.


2. Coughing

Flu affects the respiratory system, unlike norovirus.

Does it hurt to swallow? It’s probably the flu, which affects the throat and lungs.8 You’ll be coughing up a storm! Norovirus, on the other hand, doesn’t affect the respiratory system. If your misery isn’t plagued with coughing, blame food poisoning.


3. Upset Stomach

Flu rarely causes stomach problems, unlike norovirus

The flu rarely causes stomach problems. Diarrhea, abdominal pain, and throwing up aren’t likely. These symptoms point to norovirus, which affects the stomach and intestines.9


4. Chills

Norovirus doesn't cause chills, but flu does

Both illnesses can bring on a fever, but the chills are a different story and are common with the flu. Norovirus may raise your body temperature, but it won’t cause chills.


5. Recent Meals

Norovirus can be caught at restaurants

Often, norovirus is caught at restaurants or when someone else makes food.10 Think back to your last few meals. Have you eaten out recently? Did someone else cook? If so, there’s a good chance it is food poisoning.


Both norovirus and the flu can go away on their own. So, rest up and take it easy. Drink lots of water to avoid dehydration, especially if you have food poisoning. OTC pain medicine can be taken if you have the flu.

Avoid contact with other people. The viruses are highly contagious, so don’t spread it to other people. If family members and roommates catch it, the virus will just hang around even longer.


To prevent both illnesses, always wash your hands before and after eating. Do it even after riding public transportation or running errands. It’s even more important if you work in a school, office, or a store. The constant contact with other people makes it easy for germs to spread, so be prepared.