Parenting

5 Ways to Tell It's Food Poisoning & Not a Stomach Bug

sick child
Randen Pederson/Flickr
It seems like that time of year again for round two of tummy bugs. But maybe this time it isn’t the flu or a virus -- maybe it’s food poisoning. Anyone can get food poisoning, even if they are hyper vigilant in kitchen cleanliness and only eat out at restaurants with an “A” sign in the window. Just a few little bacteria from a mindless cross-contamination of raw meat, or someone forgetting to wash their hands, or a zillion other things, and bam -- both ends disease.

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So how do you know the difference and why does it matter? Food poisoning can be really hard on kids’ systems, and needs to be more closely monitored than in adults. They can get dehydrated fast, and if it’s a particularly nasty strain of bacteria, say like botulism, they need to get to the doctor ASAP.

Here are five ways to tell if it’s food poisoning and not a tummy bug.

  1. Sudden Onset: It takes six to 12 hours for food poisoning to hit the system after ingestion. So if you go out to dinner and your kid goes to bed feeling fine but wakes up heaving in the middle of the night, it's probably food poisoning.
  2. Sharp Abdominal Pains: A bug is more likely to produce a dull ache, while food poisoning will send sharp, stabbing pains to your child's middle.
  3. Insane Diarrhea and/or Vomiting: Your kid’s body is trying as hard as it can to get rid of the “poison” as quickly as possible, regardless of what it does to his hydration levels.
  4. You All Go Down for the Count at Once: A bug is more likely to travel from one family member to the next with a bit of overlap. Food poisoning will hit everyone that ingested the bacteria in roughly the same time frame.
  5. It Clears Up as Quickly as It Came: You’ve heard of the 24-hour flu, right? Yeah, that was probably food poisoning. The flu and other viruses last days or even weeks -- not one measly 24-hour period.

As mentioned above, the biggest worry with kids and food poisoning is dehydration. Call the pediatrician if your child’s mouth/throat is so dry they are having trouble swallowing or breathing, if they spike a fever over 100, or if there’s blood in their stool.

Otherwise all you can do is wait it out with cool compresses, backrubs, and some comforting words for your miserable little one.  

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