Food Poisoning: Toxins In Digestive System
Short Guide To Symptoms, Causes, Treatment Of Food Poisoning
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Food Poisoning

This type of intestinal condition is characterized by sudden illness caused by eating food or drinking liquids contaminated by a toxin or infectious organism. Poor food hygiene is a risk factor.

Symptoms Of Food Poisoning

Food poisoning is the term used to describe a sudden disorder caused by consuming food or drink that may taste normal but is contaminated with a poisonous organism. The diagnosis of food poisoning is easily made if a group of people all develop the same symptoms, usually vomiting and diarrhea, after they have consumed the same food or drink. The symptoms may start hours or days after consuming the food in question. Usually the symptoms are confined to the gastrointestinal tract. However, some food poisoning may cause more widespread symptoms. For example, the Clostridium Botulinum bacterium (Botulism) causes muscle weakness and paralysis, and Listeriosis may cause flu-like symptoms and lead to meningitis. Food poisoning is becoming increasingly prevalent, affecting 15-20 percent of the population every year. However, it can usually be avoided by careful food preparation, food storage and hygienic cooking.

What Are The Causes Of Food Poisoning?

Most cases of food poisoning result from contamination of food or water by bacteria, viruses or, less commonly, protozoal parasites. Unhealthy food hygiene can enable these microorganisms to multiply. In some cases of bacterial food poisoning, it is not the presence of the bacteria themselves that cause poisoning but the effect of toxins produced by the bacteria. If infectious organisms are ingested with the food they can multiply in the digestive tract. If the food poisoning is caused by bacterial toxins, they may be produced in the food before it is eaten. Most types of food poisoning cause diarrhea and/or vomiting, often with abdominal pain. The severity of symptoms, the speed at which they develop and the duration of the illness depend on the cause of food poisoning.

Staphylococci Bacteria

A number of foods, such as chicken/turkey, eggs, pate and previously prepared sandwiches can be infected by Staphylococci Bacteria. These bacteria produce toxins that are ingested with food. The toxins usually produce diarrhea and/or vomiting within 4 hours. In most cases, symptoms disappear within 24 hours.

Escherichia Coli Bacteria

Certain types of E.coli can contaminate meat and water, producing toxins of varying potency. Types of E.coli are usually responsible for causing the type of diarrhea usually experienced by travellers. However, some types of E.coli may cause a severe illness because they produce a more dangerous type of toxin that can damage blood cells and lead to kidney (renal) failure.

Salmonella Bacteria

Between 7-10 percent of the population develop the disease Salmonellosis every year from eating eggs, chicken or turkey that are infected with Salmonella Bacteria. Typical symptoms include vomiting, mild fever and severe diarrhea that may be blood stained. The symptoms of Salmonella poisoning usually begin 12-72 hours after eating the contaminated food and last for 1-3 days.

Campylobacter Bacteria

These bacteria are one of the most common causes of diarrhea. They may contaminate meat and more rarely water or unpasteurized milk. Symptoms of Campylobacter Bacteria usually develop about 2-5 days after eating contaminated food and may include severe, watery diarrhea. The diarrhea may contain blood and/or mucus. In most cases the symptoms subside within 2-3 days, but bacteria may be present in feces for up to 5 weeks after infection.

Other Infections Causing Food Poisoning

Viral infections can be contracted from contaminated food or water. Shellfish are a common source of infection, especially those with the Norwalk virus. Symptoms often start suddenly after ingestion of the contaminated food, but recovery is usually rapid. Protozoal infections include Cryptosporidiosis, Amoebiasis, and Giardiasis. Cryptosporidiosis may cause symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea to develop about a week after contaminated substances have been consumed. Symptoms of Amoebiasis may include water, often bloody, diarrhea lasting for several days or even weeks. Giardiasis causes diarrhea, bloating and flatuence that may last more than a week.

Non-Infectious Causes Of Food Poisoning

Some incidences of food poisoning may be caused by poisonous mushrooms or contamination of fruit/vegetables with high concentration of pesticides. Symptoms may include vomiting and diarrhea. More serious cases of toxic poisoning after eating contaminated food may arise from the consumption of fish contaminated by mercury, lead or other toxic chemicals.

Treatment Of Food Poisoning

Usually, the symptoms of food poisoning disappear without the need for treatment. If symptoms are severe or persist for more than 3-4 days, talk to your doctor. If an elderly person or child is affected by food poisoning you need to talk to a doctor immediately. Keep a sample of any remaining food as well as a sample of the patient's feces, which can be tested for the presence of infectious microorganisms. If the cause is non-infectious, such as poisonous mushrooms, you may need to be treated urgently to eliminate the poison from your body. Treatment of food poisoning is usually aimed at preventing dehydration. In severe cases fluids and salts may be administered intravenously in hospital. Typically, antibotics are prescribed only if specific bacteria have been identified. Patients usually recover quite rapidly from an attack of food poisoning and rarely experience longlasting health consequences. In very rare cases, there is a risk of septicemia if bacteria spread into the blood stream. Both dehydration and septicemia can cause shock - a condition that is sometimes fatal.

How To Treat Dehydration

Infants, children and seniors are particularly prone to dehydration, which can be treated as follows:

  • Drink plenty of fluids every 1-2 hours while symptoms last. Choose fluids such as diluted orange juice, weak sweet tea, soda or rehydration solution available over the counter as a powder to be reconstituted.
  • Do not give children milk as it may prolong the diarrhea. However, if a breast-feeding baby is affected continue to breast-feed and give the baby additional fluids.
  • Avoid the sun and try to keep cool in order to prevent further loss of body fluids in sweat.

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