Food poisoning is a common, yet distressing and sometimes life-threatening problem for millions of people in the U.S. and throughout the world. People infected with food-borne organisms may be symptom-free or may have symptoms ranging from mild intestinal discomfort to severe dehydration and bloody diarrhea. Depending on the type of infection, people can even die as a result of food poisoning.
More than 250 different diseases can cause food poisoning. Some of the most common diseases are infections caused by bacteria, such as Campylobacter, Salmonella, Shigella, E. coli O157:H7, Listeria, botulism, and norovirus.
Campylobacter is a bacterium that causes acute diarrhea. Transmission usually occurs through ingestion of contaminated food, water, or unpasteurized milk, or through contact with infected infants, pets, or wild animals.
Symptoms of campylobacter include:
Diarrhea (sometimes bloody)
Nausea and vomiting
Abdominal pain and/or cramping
Malaise (general uneasiness)
Is Campylobacter Infection a Serious Health Concern?
Campylobacter infection can be serious, especially in those with weakened immune systems. In rare cases, campylobacter infection can cause additional problems such as reactive arthritis or brain and nerve problems. Occasionally, these problems occur after the diarrhea has stopped.
How Is Campylobacter Infection Diagnosed and Treated?
If you think you may have been exposed to campylobacter infection, see your doctor. By testing a sample of stool, the bacteria can be identified.
If you are found to have the infection, you will likely recover on your own without treatment within two to five days. Drink plenty of fluids to prevent becoming dehydrated.
In more severe cases, antibiotics (such as Cipro), if given early in the illness, can be used to shorten the length of time you are sick.
What Is Salmonella?
Salmonella is a bacterial infection that can be passed on to humans from domestic and wild animals, including poultry, pigs, cattle, and pets. But most often, it is caused by drinking unpasteurized milk or by eating undercooked poultry and poultry products such as eggs. Any food prepared on surfaces contaminated by raw chicken or turkey can also become tainted with salmonella. Less often, the illness may stem from food contaminated by a food worker.
Salmonella can escape from the intestine and go into the blood and travel to other organs. It may become a chronic infection in some people, who can be symptom-free yet capable of spreading the disease to others.
Salmonella infections occur worldwide, but it is most extensively reported in North America and Europe.
Symptoms of salmonella include acute onset of:
These symptoms, along with loss of appetite, can persist for several days.
Can Salmonella Infection Cause Serious Health Problems?
Although most people recover completely (which sometimes can take several months), salmonella infection may cause a condition known as reactive arthritis in a small percentage of people. Symptoms include joint pain, eye irritation, and pain when urinating. The joint pain may develop into chronic arthritis.
Salmonella infection rarely causes death, although it can occur in the very young, very old, or among those who have compromised immune systems.