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Food Poisoning: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis And Treatment

Food poisoning, also called foodborne illness, is caused when you eat contaminated, spoiled or toxic food which is infected with bacteria, virus and parasites [1] .

These infectious organisms can come in contact with food at the time of processing or production and contaminate it. At home, if food is incorrectly handled or cooked, contamination can happen.

Causes Of Food Poisoning

  • Bacteria

Bacteria such as E. coli, Salmonella and Listeria are the most common causes of food poisoning [2] . According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Salmonella causes 1.2 million food illnesses, 23,000 hospitalizations and 450 deaths in the US every year.

The other two lesser-known bacteria that can contaminate food are Campylobacter and Clostiridium botulinum (botulism).

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  • Virus

Virus, especially the norovirus, also known as the Norwalk virus, causes over 19 million cases of food poisoning every year [3] . Hepatitis A virus can also be transmitted through food.

  • Parasite

Food poisoning caused by parasites is not that common but still, they can be dangerous for your health. The most common parasite-causing food poisoning is Toxoplasma found in cat litter boxes [3] .

Symptoms Of Food Poisoning [1]

The symptoms vary depending on the source of infection. The length of time for the symptoms to appear is as little as 1 hour to as long as 28 days. The symptoms are as follows:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Mild fever
  • Headaches
  • Nausea

When food poisoning is life-threatening, the symptoms include:

  • Fever higher than 101.5 degree Fahrenheit
  • Diarrhoea exceeding for more than three days
  • Difficulty in speaking or seeing
  • Bloody urine
  • Severe dehydration

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Risk Factors Of Food Poisoning [4]

  • Infants, young children and older adults - They are more prone to food poisoning because their immune system is weak.
  • Pregnant women - Changes in metabolism and circulation may increase the risk of food poisoning in pregnant women.
  • People with chronic diseases - Chronic diseases like liver disease, AIDS, and diabetes can lower your immune response.

Complications Of Food Poisoning

Severe dehydration is the most serious complication of food poisoning. Complications of a Listeria food poisoning may lead to miscarriage in early pregnancy, and in later pregnancy, it can lead to premature birth and stillbirth.

E. coli bacteria strains can cause a serious complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome, which damages the lining of the tiny blood vessels in the kidneys causing kidney failure. Also, older adults, people with weakened immunity and children younger than 5 have a higher risk of developing this complication.

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Diagnosis For Food Poisoning

Diagnosis is done based on a detailed history of the individual, how long he or she has been sick, symptoms and the foods that are eaten.

Based on the symptoms and history the doctor performs diagnostic tests such as stool test and blood test to determine what is responsible for the food poisoning.

Urine test is also done to see whether an individual is dehydrated as a result of food poisoning.

Treatment For Food Poisoning

  • Food poisoning can be treated at home and it usually resolves within three to five days.
  • Keep yourself hydrated all the time and drink electrolyte water to maintain the balance of fluids in the body which is lost due to diarrhoea and vomiting.
  • Antibiotics are prescribed by the doctor if you have certain kinds of bacterial food poisoning.
  • Food poisoning caused by the Listeria bacterium require treatment with intravenous antibiotics during hospitalization.
  • Over the counter medications like loperamide and bismuth subsalicylate can help control diarrhoea and nausea.

What To Eat When You Have Food Poisoning

  • Bananas
  • Oatmeal
  • Rice
  • Chicken broth
  • Saltine crackers
  • Boiled vegetables
  • Toast
  • Bland potatoes
  • Diluted fruit juices
  • Sport drinks

What Not To Eat When You Have Food Poisoning

  • Fatty foods
  • Dairy products
  • Spicy and fried foods
  • Foods that contain seasoning
  • Foods with high sugar content

Tips To Prevent Food Poisoning

  • Don't consume fish products if they are raw and undercooked.
  • Always wash fruits and vegetables before eating or cooking.
  • Wash your hands before eating or cooking food.
  • Don't eat deli meats and hot dogs that aren't heated or cooked.
  • Don't consume unpasteurized milk.

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View Article References
  1. [1] He, F., Zhu, X. P., Zhu, B. P., & Ma, H. L. (2011). Study on an outbreak of food poisoning caused by Salmonella blegdam.Zhonghua liu xing bing xue za zhi= Zhonghua liuxingbingxue zazhi,32(7), 697-699.
  2. [2] Kassahun, M., & Wongiel, S. (2019). Food poisoning outbreak investigation in Dewachefa woreda, Oromia Zone, Amhara Region, Ethiopia, 2018.BMC research notes,12(1), 377.
  3. [3] Mead, P. S., Slutsker, L., Dietz, V., & McCaig, L. F. (2000). Food-related illness and death in the United States.Journal of Environmental Health,62(7), 9.
  4. [4] Parry, S. M., Palmer, S. R., Slader, J., Humphrey, T., & South East Wales Infectious Disease Liaison Group (2002). Risk factors for salmonella food poisoning in the domestic kitchen--a case control study.Epidemiology and infection,129(2), 277–285.

Story first published: Wednesday, October 16, 2019, 17:29 [IST]
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