Food borne illnesses are infections caused by food substances or drinks consisting of harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or even chemicals which lead to irritations in the gastrointestinal tract. Your GI tract constitutes a series of organs connected to each other to form a long, hollow tube from the mouth to the anus. While most food borne illnesses tend to be acute, which means they occur abruptly and last for a short period, there are some instances in which a food borne illness may be severe and cause debilitating complications.
Symptoms of food borne illnesses commonly include, vomiting, abdominal discomfort, diarrhea, fever and chills. In most cases, people recover on their own from acute food borne illnesses without the need for treatment.
Each year, around 48 million people around in the United States suffer from a food borne illness, which is equal to 1 in 6 people. Death is the most serious outcome and about 3000 people in the US die from food borne illnesses annually. Most of these cases occur from eating out.
How many people can get affected?
The outbreak size often varies on the pathogen or chemical that contaminates food and the point at which the foreign body reaches the meals, whether it is during storage, preparation or serving.
Here are some examples to help you get an idea of how serious an outbreak can get:
- A local outbreak can occur through just the consumption of a casserole at a community supper, thus infecting other residents who are acquainted with the consumers.
- A statewide or regional outbreak can occur from the selling of just one batch of contaminated ground beef sold at different locations of a supermarket chain, thus causing illnesses in numerous countries.
- A national outbreak can occur from the shipment of contaminated produce from a farm to nationwide grocery stores, which may in turn affect hundreds of people in different states or regions.
Pathogens that cause food borne illnesses
In most cases, it can get difficult to round up the suspects that are causing the symptoms because they often tend to be very similar to each other. Moreover, symptoms may have kicked in days after you actually consumed the food that caused the problem therefore, pointing out what you ate may be an issue as well. However, a substantial amount of detective work may produce some favorable results during diagnosis. Some usual suspects include:
- Escherichia coli (E.coli). E. coli is one of the most frequent causes of food poisoning and traveler’s diarrhea. Infections typically occur when the E. coli contaminates food or water with the bacteria from infected feces.
- Salmonella. Millions of people in the US are affected by Salmonella each year due to the consumption of contaminated peanuts, eggs, peppers, beef, chicken etc. Major symptoms include blood in the mucus, cramps and diarrhea. It takes about four to seven days for people to recover.
- Campylobacter. Campylobacter is more common than the aforementioned pathogens, affecting millions of people each year. The bacterium thrives in the intestinal tract of many chickens and cattle. In most cases, consumption of undercooked chicken is the causes, causing a series of symptoms such as cramps, copious diarrhea and fever.
- Listeria. Food borne illnesses from listeria are relatively less common, but they are often serious. Listeria usually contaminates soft cheeses, unpasteurized milk and other types of dairy. Symptoms of infection include, vomiting, watery diarrhea and fever. If pregnant women consume contaminated food, they may miscarry. Elderly people, people with suppressed immune systems and diabetics have a risk of developing meningitis and potentially deadly blood infections.
- Norovirus. People are infected with this virus when they consume food or water contaminated with tiny traces of fecal matter from an infected person. Major symptoms of norovirus infections include nausea, watery diarrhea and vomiting. Note that antibiotics are ineffective against viral infections.
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