Food poisoning is any illness caused by eating food or drink that is contaminated with certain types of bacteria, parasites, viruses or toxins.

How does food become contaminated?

  • When food is not prepared safely, including when meat is undercooked or lack of hand washing
  • when food is touched by someone who has gastroenteritis (gastro)
  • by contact with pets, flies or other pests
  • when raw meat and ready to eat foods come into contact with each other
  • when food is stored at unsafe temperatures that allows bacteria to grow
  • when fruit, vegetables and eggs are contaminated with animal manure or water contaminated by animal manure.

Signs and symptoms:

The symptoms of food poisoning vary depending on the cause of the illness after eating contaminated food (incubation period).
People with food poisoning may experience some or all of the following symptoms:

  • nausea (feeling sick)
  • diarrhoea
  • vomiting
  • stomach pains or cramps
  • sweating, fever or chills
  • headache
  • lethargy (extreme tiredness).

Signs and symptoms may start within hours after eating the contaminated food, or they may begin days or even weeks later. Sickness caused by food poisoning generally lasts from a few hours to several days

Risk factor

Vulnerable groups include:

 

  • Pregnant women
  • The elderly
  • Young children
  • People with chronic disease. Having a chronic condition — such as diabetes, liver disease or AIDS — or receiving chemotherapy or radiation therapy for cancer reduces your immune response.

 

When to see a doctor

If you experience any of the following signs or symptoms, seek medical attention.

  • Frequent episodes of vomiting and inability to keep liquids down
  • Bloody vomit or stools
  • Diarrhea for more than three days
  • Extreme pain or severe abdominal cramping
  • An oral temperature higher than 100.4 F (38 C)
  • Signs or symptoms of dehydration — excessive thirst, dry mouth, little or no urination, severe weakness, dizziness, or lightheadedness
  • Neurological symptoms such as blurry vision, muscle weakness and tingling in the arms

Prevention

Wash your hands often, and always before cooking or cleaning. Always wash them again after touching raw meat.

  • Clean dishes and utensils that have had any contact with raw meat, poultry, fish, or eggs.
  • DO NOT place cooked meat or fish back onto the same plate or container that held the raw meat, unless the container has been completely washed.
  • Refrigerate any perishable food or leftovers within 2 hours. DO NOT eat meat, poultry, or fish that has been refrigerated uncooked for longer than 1 to 2 days.
  • Cook frozen foods for the full time recommended on the package.
  • DO NOT use outdated foods, packaged food with a broken seal, or cans that are bulging or have a dent.
  • DO NOT drink water from streams or wells that are not treated. Only drink water that has been treated or chlorinated.
  • DO NOT use foods that have an unusual odor or a spoiled taste.
  • If you aren’t sure if a food has been prepared, served or stored safely, discard it. Food left at room temperature too long may contain bacteria or toxins that can’t be destroyed by cooking. Don’t taste food that you’re unsure about — just throw it out. Even if it looks and smells fine, it may not be safe to eat.

Treatment

Treatment for food poisoning typically depends on the source of the illness, if known, and the severity of your symptoms. For most people, the illness resolves without treatment within a few days, though some types of food poisoning may last longer.

Treatment of food poisoning may include:

  • Replacement of lost fluids. Fluids and electrolytes — minerals such as sodium, potassium and calcium that maintain the balance of fluids in your body — lost to persistent diarrhea need to be replaced. Some children and adults with persistent diarrhea or vomiting may need hospitalization, where they can receive salts and fluids through a vein (intravenously), to prevent or treat dehydration.
  • Antibiotics. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics if you have certain kinds of bacterial food poisoning and your symptoms are severe. Food poisoning caused by listeria needs to be treated with intravenous antibiotics during hospitalization. The sooner treatment begins, the better. During pregnancy, prompt antibiotic treatment may help keep the infection from affecting the baby.

Antibiotics will not help food poisoning caused by viruses. Antibiotics may actually worsen symptoms in certain kinds of viral or bacterial food poisoning. Talk to your doctor about your options.

Adults with diarrhea that isn’t bloody and who have no fever may get relief from taking the medication loperamide (Imodium A-D) or bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol). Talk to your doctor about these options.

– Dr. KrishnaPriya

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