Food Poisoning

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What is Food Poisoning? Food poisoning, which is also called foodborne illness, is a term used to describe symptoms caused by eating or drinking contaminated, spoilt or toxic food or drink. Symptoms may appear between a few hours to a few days making it difficult to determine the exact food that led to the poisoning. […] Read More

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Food Poisoning

What is Food Poisoning?

Food poisoning, which is also called foodborne illness, is a term used to describe symptoms caused by eating or drinking contaminated, spoilt or toxic food or drink. Symptoms may appear between a few hours to a few days making it difficult to determine the exact food that led to the poisoning.

Imagine eating dinner at one of your favorite restaurants only to be woken up by the urge to throw up or, worse, diarrhea. Diarrhea, pain in the abdomen, and vomiting are some of the symptoms associated with food poisoning. 

Symptoms experienced can be severe and fatal, as seen in the recent case of a teenager with food poisoning at Kasaragod. In a recent news publication, the Kerala health department identified Shigella as the cause of food poisoning. In this article, we shall explore the causes, symptoms, and diagnosis of food poisoning and treatment and prevention. 

Food poisoning

Picture courtesy: eMedicineHealth

 

When to Seek Medical Help?

Food poisoning can be life-threatening, especially if the symptoms listed below are experienced. It is advised to see a healthcare professional once these symptoms occur.

      • Bloody urine or stools
      • Vomiting frequently
      • Diarrhea that persists longer than 3 days
      • Seeing or speaking difficulty
      • Extreme pain
      • Severe dehydration (dry mouth, difficulty keeping fluids down, excreting little or no urine)
      • Neurological symptoms (weakness of the muscles, blurred vision, tingling in the arms) 

The bacteria called Shigella causes the infection referred to as shigellosis, which is transmitted through contaminated food and drink. Symptoms include diarrhea (sometimes bloody), stomach cramps, and fever. These symptoms may appear between 1 to 2 days after the infection occurred and may last as long as 7 days.

Other causes include:

      • Eating raw food exposes an individual. 
      • Improper washing or not washing hands before cooking or eating.  

 

What are the Foods to Eat and Avoid During Food Poisoning?

Until the symptoms of diarrhea and vomiting are gone, an individual is advised to avoid solid food but consume soft food or fluids that can be digested easily. Foods to be consumed include:

      • oatmeal,
      • rice,
      • sports drinks,
      • boiled vegetables,
      • diluted fruits juice,
      • chicken broth,
      • bananas,
      • soda that does not contain caffeine, such as ginger ale or root beer.

Foods that are hard to digest should be completely avoided. Such foods include:

      • fatty foods,
      • spicy foods,
      • fried foods,
      • sugary foods,
      • dairy products,
      • highly seasoned foods.

Diagnosis of Food Poisoning

The symptoms an individual experiences aid the doctor in diagnosing the exact type of food poisoning. Tests may be conducted on food, blood, and stool samples to identify the cause of food poisoning. At the same time, a urine test can be conducted to assess if an individual is dehydrated.

How do we treat food poisoning patients? 

food poisoning treatment

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Most food poisoning cases resolve by themselves. However, mild cases of food poisoning can be treated at home, but when symptoms persist, it is advised to seek medical help. It is essential to get enough rest at this time.

      • Hydration – It is always important to remember to stay hydrated when suffering from food poisoning. Drinks rich in electrolytes and fruit drinks, and coconut water can be taken to reduce fatigue and restore lost carbohydrates. To calm the upset stomach, an individual can drink decaffeinated teas containing soothing herbs.
      • Over-the-counter medications – Over-the-counter medications can be gotten in drug stores without a prescription from the doctor. But it is always advised to get a doctor’s prescription for any drugs to be taken. Drugs such as loperamide and Pepto-Bismol help to subdue fatigue and manage diarrhea. Since diarrhea and vomiting are ways in which the body gets rid of the toxin from food poisoning, taking medications without a doctor’s knowledge to manage the symptoms is not totally advisable. Some of these medications can conceal the severity of symptoms experienced, which can delay treatment.
      • Prescription medications – Prescription medications are prescribed by the doctor based on the cause of the food poisoning. People such as the elderly, pregnant women, young children, and immunocompromised people benefit more from prescription medications because their immune systems may either be suppressed or underdeveloped. The table below highlights some causative pathogens of food poisoning and the medications prescribed for its treatment.  

 

Causative Pathogens Medications
A. lumbricoides Albendazole (Albenza), Mebendazole (Enverm)
Campylobacter Azithromycin (Zithromax)
Cryptosporidium Nitazoxanide (Alinia)
D. latum Praziquantel (Biltricide)
Enterobiasis Albendazole (Albenza), Mebendazole (Enverm)
G. lamblia Nitazoxanide (Alinia), Metronidazole (Flagyl), Paromomycin, Quinacrine, Furazolidone, Tinidazole (Tindamax)
L. monocytogenes Ampicillin
Opisthorchiidae Praziquantel (Biltricide), Albendazole (Albenza)
Paragonimus Praziquantel (Biltricide), Triclabendazole (Egaten)
Shigella Azithromycin (Zithromax), Ciprofloxacin (Cipro)
T. saginata Praziquantel (Biltricide), Albendazole (Albenza)
T. gondii Pyrimethamine (Daraprim), Sulfadiazine, Spiramycin
T. solium Praziquantel (Biltricide), Albendazole (Albenza)
Trichinella Albendazole (Albenza), Mebendazole (Enverm)
      • Antitoxin – Some cases of food poisoning may result in a medical emergency. Such a case occurs mostly when the infection is caused botulinum. In such cases, the individual should seek help from a health professional quickly. A doctor may administer an antitoxin to help fight the infection.

In severe food poisoning cases, when the individual is admitted to the hospital, he or she will be hydrated with the use of intravenous fluid. Some extreme cases of infections caused by C. botulinum will require placing such individuals on mechanical ventilation.

What are the Health Problems from Food Poisoning?

Food poisoning can become life-threatening in very rare cases but in most cases the symptoms of food poisoning resolve after a while even without treatment. People with severe cases of food poisoning need to be hospitalized in ensure that they are properly treated and the condition managed. According to the Centers for Disease and Control (CDC), food poisoning can cause serious health problems such as:

 

How Can Food Poisoning be Prevented?

food poisoning prevention

Picture Courtesy: Pixtastock

    1. It can be best prevented by inculcating the habit of properly handling food.
    2. Completely avoid foods that are considered unsafe.
    3. Washing the hands before and after eating and cooking.
    4. Properly cook foods such as meat, eggs, and poultry which most times contain infectious agents before consumption.
    5. Food items should be sealed properly and stored appropriately.
    6. Wash fruits and vegetables properly before use or consumption.
    7. Any and all surfaces to come in contact with food should be sanitized.
    8. Food and drinks should be properly refrigerated.
    9. Raw food should be kept separately from already prepared food.

It can make you feel horrible even when it does not cause any noticeable symptoms. Most cases of food poisoning go away within some minutes or days even without treatment. In very severe cases, an individual should seek medical help immediately.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms associated with Food Poisoning?

When an individual has food poisoning, the mere thought of food can cause a feeling of nausea. The individual becomes weak and tired. The source of the infection determines the symptoms that an individual will experience and when the symptoms begin to show up. The length of time a symptom can last is between 30 minutes and several weeks. Some cases of food poisoning can be resolved in a week with or without treatment. The symptoms can range from mild to severe, and the common symptoms experienced by individuals include: 

      • vomiting
      • diarrhea (watery or bloody)
      • headache
      • muscle aches
      • weakness and fatigue
      • abdominal cramps and pains
      • loss of appetite
      • mild fever
      • nausea

Causes

What are the most common  causes of Food Poisoning?

Causes of food poisoning

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Pathogens such as bacteria, parasites, and viruses are the major causes of food poisoning because they are sometimes found in food such as meat, eggs, vegetables, fruits, etc. Water and food can be contaminated with organisms that may have come in contact with feces or vomit. Food may be contaminated during growth, harvesting, production, storage, shipping, and preparation. These pathogens can be killed when the temperature of the food is increased while cooking. 

The below highlights species of pathogens that cause food poisoning.

Pathogens Species
Bacteria Echecherichia coli, Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella spp., Campylobacter spp., Clostridium botulinum, Staphylococcus aureus, Shigella spp., Vibrio vulnificus.
Virus Norovirus, Rotavirus, Astrovirus, Sapovirus, Hepatitis A virus.
Parasites Toxoplasma gondii, Giardia lamblia, tapeworms (Taenia saginata, Taenia solium, Diphyllobothrium latum), Cryptosporidium, Ascaris lumbricoides, flukes (Opisthorchiidae and Paragonimus), pinworms, or Enterobiasis, Trichinella.

The bacteria called Shigella causes the infection referred to as shigellosis, which is transmitted through contaminated food and drink. Symptoms include diarrhea (sometimes bloody), stomach cramps, and fever. These symptoms may appear between 1 to 2 days after the infection occurred and may last as long as 7 days.

Other causes of food poisoning include:

      • Eating raw food exposes an individual to food poisoning. 
      • Improper washing or not washing hands before cooking or eating.  

FAQ

      • How long does food poisoning last?

Food poisoning can last for 30 minutes to several weeks, depending on its severity.

      • How quickly does food poisoning kick in?

The symptoms of food poisoning can appear 30 minutes to 8 hours after exposure to contaminated food or drink.

      • What causes food poisoning?

Food poisoning is caused by consuming contaminated, spoiled, or toxic foods and drinks. Pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites can contaminate foods and drinks.