Food poisoning also known as food-borne illness could be described as an illness that arises as a result of bacteria or toxins in food consumed. That is, it is an illness that develops when one consumes contaminated food or food products. Apart from bacteria (Salmonella, Escherichia coli, Campylobacter, Shigella, Listeria), viruses (such as noroviruses), parasites and/or their toxins (botulinum toxin) can also contaminate food either at the point of production or processing causing the disease.
Food-borne illness is known to be a common, distressing and most times a life threatening disease affecting millions of the U.S population and the world at large.
The signs of food poisoning usually start few hours or days after eating contaminated food and this may include but not limited to increase in body temperature, chills, abdominal pain and muscle pains (aching muscles). Similarly, the disease symptoms ensue few hours, days or weeks of consuming the contaminated food and they include vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, weakness and anorexia (loss of appetite).
Depending on the causative organism and the severity of the disease (food-borne illness), some affected subjects recover, without treatment, few days of initial signs and/or symptoms. On the other hand, deaths have been documented in some severe cases of this illness, hence the need to go to the hospital in severe cases of food poison.
When any of the signs/symptoms below is noticed, affected subjects should seek medical attention.
- Blood or pus in the stool;
- Diarrhea and inability to take fluids owing to nausea and/or vomiting;
- The various signs of dehydration (light-headedness, dizziness, thirst);
- Incessant vomiting (more than 12 hours) especially in new borne under 3 months;
- The poisoning originates from mushroom, botulinum, fish and other sea foods;
- An oral temperature higher than 38.6oC (101.5F).
The various microorganisms, in addition to the ones outlined above, that can cause food poisoning are Clostridium perfringens, Giardia lambia, Hepatitis A, Rotavirus, Staphylococcus aureus ad Vibrio vulnificus. These contaminants have serious health implications and they occur in food/meat that are not properly cooked, food not properly stored, cooked food left at warm temperature for a long time, previously cooked food that are not adequately re-heated, food handled by an ill person or with dirty hands and/or cross-contaminated food.
Improper handling, storage or processing of the outlined food/food items below could predispose one to food poisoning.
- Uncooked eggs;
- Milk which have not undergone pasteurization;
- Raw shellfish;
- Uncooked meat and poultry;
- Already prepared foods like cheeses, meat, pate and pre-packed sandwiches.
Higher risk groups are older adults, pregnant women, infants/young children and people with chronic diseases. A major complication of food poisoning is dehydration; the uncontrolled usually severe loss of fluids (water, essential salts, minerals) from the body. Other complications are miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth caused by Listeria monocytogenes, hemolytic uremic syndrome caused by E.coli. Infants who recover from a listeria infection may have a long term neurological damage as well as delayed development.
Though some cases of food poisoning are idiopathic, it is usually diagnosed based on a detailed patient’s history. These may include the duration of sickness, symptoms and food types consumed. Also, a physical examination is performed to see if there are signs of dehydration and others.
In line with the symptoms and patient’s health history, blood test, stool culture or tests for parasites are carried out.
Salmonella poisoning can be referred to as salmonellosis; a type of food poisoning caused by salmonella enterica. These bacteria strains that are common in the U.S are the typhimurium and the enteritidis serotypes.
The progression of salmonellosis is common in summer and children are more endangered especially those (both children and adult) whose immune systems have been compromised.
Symptoms of Salmonella Poisoning
The disease is mostly contacted by eating food contaminated by salmonella and the known symptoms of food poisoning (diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps) usually ensue. Symptoms generally occur 12 to 72 hours after infection and the disease may last from 4 to 7 days. Some subjects infected with salmonella have the tendencies of developing Reiter’s syndrome which can last for months or years and complicate to chronic arthritis. Also, complicated salmonella infection could lead to reactive arthritis and focal infection (caused by typhoidal salmonella).
Treatments for food poisoning/salmonella
Treatment approaches to food poisoning are largely dependent on the causative organism(s), the severity of the disease symptoms. The various treatment modalities are:
- Replacement of lost fluids: Here, electrolytes and minerals lost due to persistent diarrhea or vomiting are replaced orally (oral rehydration therapy) or intravenously.
- Antibiotic therapy: Depending on the organism involved and the symptoms, antibiotics may be used to alleviate the illness. Intravenous antibiotics are employed in cases of listeria infection. More care should be taken in treating food poison in pregnant women to forestall mother to baby infection.
- Adults whose stool is not bloody and who do not have fever may be relieved by taking loperamide (Imodium A-D) or Pepto Bismol (Bismuth subsalicylate).
There are lifestyle and home remedies that have been proven effective in the cases of food poisoning. These are outlined below.
- Do not eat or drink for some hours;
- Take ice chips and/or little sips of water: Clear soda, non-caffeinated drinks can be used;
- Eat bland, low fat and easily digested foods (toasts, bananas, rice, soda crackers, gelatin);
- Avoid some foods like dairy products, nicotine, alcohol, seasoned foods and caffeine.
Food poisoning can be a more serious and a life threatening illness for any group (children, infants, pregnant women, adults) especially when the immune system is compromised. However, the disease progression and the symptoms can be alleviated by proper diagnosis as well as adequate supportive therapy with relevant lifestyle modifications. We should not forget to consult a doctor in severe cases to exonerate ourselves from subsequent complications.