Food Poisoning

Overview

 

Food poisoning is illness that results from the consumption of food contaminated with bacteria, viruses and parasites. These microorganisms are invisible to the naked eye but, once consumed, produce toxins in the body that result in classic food poisoning symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea. Symptoms usually start within a few hours of exposure and last for a few days. Most cases of food poisoning are mild and can be treated at home with rest and plenty of fluids.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

General symptoms of food poisoning include nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever and chills. These symptoms are usually most acute in the 48 hours after contaminated food is eaten, but they can last for up to ten days. Mild cases of food poisoning can run their course, but more serious symptoms should be evaluated by a doctor. Serious symptoms include severe vomiting that prevents liquid intake, blood in vomit or feces, diarrhea that lasts more than three days, extreme abdominal pain and a temperature over 101 degrees Fahrenheit. Dehydration symptoms such as intense thirst, weakness, dizziness and fainting or inability to produce urine, trouble speaking or swallowing and vision changes should be evaluated by a physician immediately.

A wide variety of organisms can cause food poisoning, so doctors diagnose the condition based on symptoms. The physician may ask for information about the length of illness, specific symptoms and recent meals. A physical exam is also conducted to determine if the patient is dehydrated. If the food poisoning is severe or does not resolve within several days, a doctor may use diagnostic tests on blood and stool samples to check for parasites or other infectious diseases.

Causes

Food poisoning can be caused by a number of germs including bacteria, viruses and parasites. The most common causes of food poisoning are bacteria such as salmonella, E. coli, listeria, campylobacter, staphylococcus aureus and shingella. These bacteria can multiply in foods that are not cooked or stored properly. They can also be a result of cross-contamination from an infected food preparer or dirty surfaces. Common viral causes of food poisoning include Hepatitis A and norovirus and are most often spread from an infected food handler. Continue reading for Prevention and Treatment information . . .

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