Food poisoning, also called foodborne illness, is illness caused by eating contaminated food. Infectious organisms – including bacteria, viruses and parasites – or their toxins are the most common causes of food poisoning.
Infectious organisms or their toxins can contaminate food at any point of processing or production. Contamination can also occur at home if food is incorrectly handled or cooked.
Food poisoning is a major cause of gastroenteritis, resulting in a well known set of unpleasant symptoms. Gastroenteritis is usually caused by viruses, bacteria or parasites, when the source of such infection is contaminated food, it is called Food poisoning.
If you have food poisoning, chances are it won’t go undetected. Symptoms can vary depending on the source of the infection, but it can range from as little as one hour to as long as 28 days. Common cases of food poisoning will typically include at least three of the following symptoms –
• abdominal cramps
• loss of appetite
• mild fever
Symptoms of potentially life-threatening food poisoning include –
• diarrhoea persisting for more than three days
• a fever higher than 101.5°F
• difficulty seeing or speaking
• extreme pain or severe abdominal cramping
• symptoms of severe dehydration, which may include dry mouth, passing little to urine, and difficulty keeping fluids down
• bloody urine
• neurological symptoms such as blurry vision, muscle weakness and tingling in the arms
In broad terms, there are three types of infectious agents that cause gastroenteritis –
The viruses that are most commonly implicated in food poisoning includes –
• Rotavirus – More common in children. Onset of symptoms in 1-3 days.
• Norovirus – More common in adults. Onset of symptoms in 12-48 hours.
Less common viral causes are astrovirus, usually affecting children and the elderly and adenoviruses. Cytomegalovirus can cause food poisoning, especially in people with compromised immunity.
The bacteria that are most commonly causes food poisoning are –
Onset of symptoms in 1-3 days.Raw, or contaminated meat, poultry, milk or egg yolks gets infected by it. It survives inadequate cooking. Can be spread by knives, cutting surfaces or an infected food handler.
Onset of symptoms in 2-5 days.Contamination occurs during processing if animal feces contact meat surfaces. Other sources include unpasteurized milk and contaminated water.
Onset of symptoms in 24-48 hours. It infects seafood and raw, ready to eat food. Can be spread by an infected food handler.
• Escherichia coli
Onset of symptoms in 1-8 days. It spreads mainly by undercooked groundbeef. Other sources are unpasteurized milk, apple cider, sprouts and contaminated water.
• Clostridium perfringens
Onset of symptoms in 8-16 hours.Commonly spread when serving dishes don’t keep food hot enough or food is chilled too slowly.
• Staphylococcus aureus
Onset of symptoms in 1-6 hours. It infects meats and prepared salads, cream sauces and cream filled pastries. Can be spread by hand contact, coughing and sneezing.
• Clostridium botulinum
Onset of symptoms in 12-72 hours. It infects home-canned foods with low acidity, improperly canned commercial foods, smoked or salted fish, potatoes baked in aluminium foil and other foods kept at warm temperatures for too long.
Parasites are not common as that of bacteria. Toxoplasma is the common parasite in case of food poisoning.
Sometimes food may be contaminated while cooking or surrounding conditions like cooking and eating without hand wash.
Risk Factors –
Whether you become ill after eating contaminated food depends on the organism, the amount of exposure, your age and your health. High risk groups include –
• Older adults
• Pregnant women
• Infants and young children
• People with chronic diseases
The most common serious complication of food poisoning is dehydration- a severe loss of water and essential salts and minerals. If you are a healthy adult and drink enough to replace fluids you lose from vomiting and diarrhoea, dehydration shouldn’t be a problem.
Infants, older adults and people with suppressed immune systems or chronic illnesses may become severly dehydrated when they lose more fluids than they can replace. In that case, they may need to be hospitalized and receive intravenous fluids. In extreme cases, dehydration can be fatal.
• Doctor may be able to diagnose the type of food poisoning based on your symptoms.
• In severe cases, blood tests, stool tests and tests on food that you have eaten may be conducted to determine what is responsible for the food poisoning.
• Your doctor may also use a urine test to evaluate whether an individual is dehydrated as a result of food poisoning.
Treatment for food poisoning typically depends on the source of the illness 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 diarrhoea need to be replaced. Some children and adults with persistent diarrhoea or vomitting may need hospitalization, where they can receive salts and fluids through a vein, to prevent or treat dehydration.
Doctor may prescribe antibiotics if you have a certain kind of bacterial food poisoning and your symptoms are severe.
Antibiotics will not help forrd poisoning caused by viruses.
Adults with diarrhoea that isn’t bloody and who have no fever may get relief from taking the medication loperamide or bismuth subsalicylate.
To prevent food poisoning at home –
• Wash your hands, utensils and food surfaces often
• Refrigerate or freeze perishable foods promptly
• Defroste food safely
• Cook foods to a safe temperature
• Keep raw foods separate from ready to eat foods
• Throw the contaminated food when in doubt
Ayurveda Perspective –
In Ayurveda Aalsak & Visuchika are diseases which are comparable to food poisoning.
• Aarogyavardhini Vati
• Vatsakadi Churna
• Sanshammi Vati
• Praval panchamrita
• Shankh Vati
• Sutshekhar Ras
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