Is it food poisoning or a virus?
The chicken you ate for dinner did seem a little underdone and the signs are all there – diarrhea, nausea, vomiting. Is it food poisoning? John Manna, FNP, explained what foodborne illness is and what to do if you think you might have food poisoning.
What is foodborne illness?
Foodborne illness comes from eating contaminated food. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), more than 48 million cases of foodborne illness happen each year in the U.S. and nearly 3,000 people die from it. Those at greatest risk are infants, young children, pregnant women, older adults and those with weakened immune systems.
“There are a lot of foodborne illnesses, including bacteria, viruses and parasites,” Manna said. “Even yeast can affect food. Some common foodborne illnesses include norovirus, salmonella, Campylobacter, E. coli, even Hepatitis A.”
These illnesses can be spread easily through cross-contamination.
How do you know you have food poisoning?
It can be hard to know if you have food poisoning versus a stomach virus because the symptoms are very similar. Common symptoms of food poisoning, which can last anywhere from a couple hours to several days, are:
- Stomach pain
A good way to know if you have food poisoning and not a virus is if other people who have eaten the same meal end up having the same symptoms.
How long does food poisoning last?
Manna said it depends on the type of foodborne illness.
“Most cases of food poisoning are very mild and in 24–48 hours you feel better,” he explained. “Usually, you’re going to get sick relatively soon after you eat, not 5–10 minutes afterwards, but a couple of hours, and it’ll last until the next day.”
However, severe cases, such as from salmonella, can require hospitalization.
“What I usually recommend, is to see your doctor,” he added. “It can be hard to tease out if this is really food poisoning or something else like flu or a stomach virus. The treatments are relatively the same, but we need to check to make sure you’re not getting too dehydrated.”
The best course of action if you have symptoms or concerns is to reach out to your primary care provider or nearby urgent care so they can assess your symptoms and vitals and recommend next steps. In general, symptoms usually resolve in 24–48 hours.
If it’s likely you do have food poisoning, it’s important to report it to your local health department or the USDA. Even if you don’t know which food caused it, reporting your illness can help public health agencies identify if a foodborne illness outbreak is happening and take actions to prevent it from spreading.
How can you prevent food poisoning?
Be aware of any recalls, and if a food doesn’t look, smell or taste right, don’t eat it. Manna said it’s also important to follow basic food safety rules.
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