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Food Poisoning

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 foodborne 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 and Listeria. Symptoms include Diarrhea (sometimes bloody), Nausea and vomiting, Abdominal pain and/or cramping, Malaise (general uneasiness), and sometimes death.

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. Campylobacter infection can be serious, especially in those with weakened immune systems. In rare cases, campylobacter infection can cause additional problems such as arthritis or brain and nerve problems. Occasionally, these problems occur after the diarrhea has stopped.

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.

Shigella is a bacteria generally transmitted through feces. It causes dysentery, an infection of the intestines causing severe diarrhea. The disease generally occurs in tropical or temperate climates, especially under conditions of crowding, where personal hygiene is poor. People with mild infections usually recover within a few days without special treatment. Drinking fluids to prevent dehydration is usually all that is needed. However, with severe infections, antibiotics and more aggressive treatment to prevent dehydration are often needed. The shigella bacteria from stools of infected people can be passed to others if hygiene or hand-washing habits are inadequate. To help prevent transmitting the infection, you should always wash your hands thoroughly after using the bathroom or changing diapers.

E. coli is a growing cause of foodborne illness. An estimated 73,000 cases of these E. coli infections occur in the U.S. every year, according to the CDC. Most E. coli infections have been associated with eating undercooked, contaminated ground beef. Drinking unpasteurized milk and swimming in or drinking sewage-contaminated water can also cause infection. Bacteria from stools of infected people can be passed to others if less than adequate hygiene or hand-washing habits are present. Young children often continue to shed the organism in their feces for a week or two after their illness resolves. In some people, particularly children under the age of 5 and the elderly, the E. coli infection can cause a serious complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome. Hemolytic uremic syndrome causes the destruction of red blood cells and kidney failure.

Listeria is a bacteria primarily found in soil and water. According to the CDC, vegetables can become contaminated from soil or from manure used as fertilizer. Animals carrying the bacterium can also contaminate food. Listeria has been found in many types of uncooked foods, such as meats and vegetables, as well as in processed foods that become contaminated after processing, such as soft cheeses (like feta and crumbled blue cheese) and cold cuts. Unpasteurized milk or foods made from unpasteurized milk may also be sources of listeria infection. Listeria is killed by pasteurization, and heating procedures used to prepare ready-to-eat processed meats should be sufficient to kill the bacterium. However, unless good manufacturing practices are followed, contamination can occur even after processing. According to the CDC, an estimated 2,500 people in the U.S. become seriously ill from a listeria infection each year, and of these, 500 will die.

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