Resources on Foodborne Disease
Keeping your family healthy starts at home. By handling food properly, you can avoid exposing your loved ones to a variety of foodborne illnesses. Why is proper food handling so important? It is imperative because foodborne diseases can be deadly. To understand the severity of this risk, find out all you can about these common foodborne illnesses.
Botulism is a paralytic illness caused by a toxin. When foodborne, it is caused by foods that contain the botulism toxin, but this is rare. Of the approximately 145 cases of botulism reported in the United States each year, only about 15 percent of them are caused by foods. Foodborne botulism usually comes from home-canned produce and fermented fish. Honey can be a source of infant botulism. Symptoms include dry mouth, difficulty swallowing, muscle weakness, blurred or double vision, and slurred speech. As it progresses, paralysis begins to kick in, and this can eventually kill the infected person, as the respiratory muscles will shut down.
Botulism is most commonly diagnosed with a stool sample. Severe botulism infections that cause respiratory failure require a patient to be on a ventilator. With intervention, the paralysis typically improves. If the toxin is caught early, it can be treated with an antitoxin that lessens its effects. The most dangerous complication from botulism is death caused by respiratory failure, but this is rare, as medical intervention usually occurs before the patient dies. For more information, visit the following:
- CDC Botulism Page – Extensive resource on the symptoms, treatment, and prevention of botulism
- MedicinePlus Botulism Page – Offered by the National Library of Medicine
Campylobacteriosis is an infection of the intestinal tract caused by a bacteria. It is spread by the consumption of food or water that has been infected by the bacteria. The bacteria live in the intestines of animals, especially cattle, pigs, and poultry, and when the food from these animals is not cooked properly, it can harbor the germs. Also, water and other food items that come in contact with contaminated feces can carry the infection.
Symptoms of campylobacteriosis include diarrhea, which can be severe and contain blood, and an accompanying fever. The feces of the affected individual carry the bacteria for over a week. Most patients can recover on their own without treatment, but dehydration is a common complication due to the diarrhea. Patients with severe dehydration must have replacement fluids, and sometimes severe cases are shortened through the use of antibiotics. For more information about this foodborne illness, visit:
- Campylobacteriosis – A fact sheet from the New York Department of Public Health
E. Coli stands for the medical term Escherichia coli, which is a form of bacteria that is common in the intestines. In fact, the bacterium helps your body break down and digest food. However, some strains are dangerous and cause illness, which can be very serious. Symptoms of a dangerous e. coli infection include stomach cramps, vomiting, and severe diarrhea. Foodborne e. coli outbreaks often come from tainted beef, because cows are quite susceptible to the infections form of the bacteria. Produce that is grown with cow manure is another source, as is unpasteurized juice.
E. coli is most commonly diagnosed through a stool sample. It can also be found in the blood. There is no treatment for e. coli, but complications such as dehydration are usually treated. Some patients who become severely dehydrated must be hospitalized. Death from e. coli is rare, but when it occurs it is typically due to severe dehydration. For more information about e. coli, visit:
- E. Coli – Information from Family Doctor
Salmonellosis, which is commonly known as salmonella, is one of the most common diseases caused by food. The salmonella bacterium is found in raw foods, including poultry, beef, and eggs. It can be transferred from these foods to other foods or hands, and it stays alive for quite a while after coming in contact with surfaces, such as the cutting board, making cross-contamination a very real concern.
Symptoms of a salmonellosis infection include diarrhea accompanied by headache, fever, and abdominal cramping. The symptoms can appear as many as three days after infection. A stool sample is used to diagnose salmonella. Most people do not require treatment, but severe dehydration is a common complication, which may require hospitalization. An antibiotic can be used to treat salmonella that enters the bloodstream. Patients with compromised immune systems may develop further complications, such as Reiter's Syndrome and Typhoid Fever. More information is available from the following:
- Salmonellosis – A resource from NIAID
- About Salmonella – A website dedicated to education about salmonella
Shigellosis is caused by the shigella bacterium, which can be found in food and water, especially in areas where sanitation is not good. Most outbreaks of Shigellosis come from contact with stools. Non-infected individuals come in contact with the stools of an infected individual and consume food without washing their hands properly. Because of the way it is spread, Shigellosis is most common in toddlers and young preschoolers. It causes abdominal cramping accompanied by a fever, a loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, and pain during bowel movements.
Shigellosis can cause complications, such as seizures, headache, fatigue, confusion, and a stiff neck. A common complication is dehydration. Rectal bleeding can also occur. Kidney failure is a rare but deadly potential complication. The infection is diagnosed through a stool sample, and sometimes antibiotics are used to treat the condition. More information is available from:
- Shigellosis – A guide aimed at teens
- IntelliHealth – A guide from Aetna
Preventing foodborne illnesses starts with handling food properly. Always wash hands before and after handling food. Do not cross contaminate by cutting meat and other foods on the same surfaces. Avoid putting ready-to-eat food in contact with raw meat or raw meat juices. Always cook meats thoroughly before eating. More information about protecting your family from foodborne illnesses is available at FightBac.
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