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Food Poisoning - Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention

Food poisoning, or food borne illness is a relatively common gastrointestinal infection. It is caused by the ingestion of food or water containing bacteria and/or their toxins; parasites (especially in water, fruits, and vegetables); viruses (found in agricultural and marine products); poisons; or heavy metals (including lead and mercury).

The foods that are most often implicated in food poisoning are eggs, dairy products, meats, and some fish and shellfish.

Symptoms of Food Poisoning

Generally, symptoms of food poisoning occur within 24 hours after the ingestion of the food in question. These most often include abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, fever, and sometimes, headaches and severe fatigue that can last for several days. Food poisoning rarely affects one individual and is responsible for very similar symptoms occurring within a short time interval in people who shared the same meal.

Diagnosing Food Poisoning

The diagnosis of food poisoning is relatively simple because the clinical signs are usually sufficiently suggestive. In the case of doubt, it is possible to conduct various analyses, including a stool sample that will help identify the causative organism, if the origin is bacterial, or a blood test. It is, however, not always possible to find the food responsible for food poisoning.

Treating Food Poisoning

Depending on the severity of the poisoning, rehydration may be enough. If not, the patient will need to take medication.

In the first case, hydration limits the effects of diarrhea and vomiting, and healing occurs spontaneously within 48 hours. In the second case, it may be necessary to prescribe antispasmodics, anti-infective drugs, or antibiotics for the most vulnerable people.

Some cases require hospitalization for hospital surveillance, and some require a mandatory statement to be sent to the regional health authority. An investigation in the search for the responsible food and any abnormality of hygiene or respect for the cold chain may be performed.

Preventing Food Poisoning

Prevention of food poisoning is done by paying attention to the foods that you consume. It is important to pay particular attention to the freshness of eggs, seafood, or meats, and to always cook them thoroughly. In general, it is important to respect the rules of hygiene, as well as those for the preparation and storage of food, for both industrials and individuals.

Sometimes, you simply need to pay attention to the use-by date listed on food packages. Similarly, you should avoid refreezing thawed food.

Image: © Piotr Marcinski - Shutterstock.com

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