Food-borne illness is a common, costly — yet preventable — public health problem. Each year, 1 in 6 Americans get sick consuming contaminated foods or beverages. Many different disease-causing microbes, or pathogens, can contaminate food so there are many different food borne infections. In addition, poisonous chemicals, or other harmful substances, can cause food-borne diseases if they are present in food.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that each year roughly 48 million people get sick from food-borne illnesses, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die. According to the 2011 estimates, the most common food-borne illnesses are caused by norovirus and by the bacterial salmonella, clostridium perfringens and campylobacter.
Raw foods of animal origin are the most likely to be contaminated; that is raw meat and poultry, raw eggs, unpasteurized milk and raw shellfish.
Because filter-feeding shellfish strain microbes from the sea over many months, they are particularly likely to be contaminated if there are any pathogens in the seawater.
Foods that mingle the products of many individual animals, such as bulk raw milk, pooled raw eggs, or ground beef, are particularly hazardous because a pathogen in any one of the animals may contaminate the whole bunch.
- A single hamburger may contain meat from hundreds of animals.
- A single restaurant omelet may contain eggs from hundreds of chickens.
- A glass of raw milk may contain milk from hundreds of cows.
- A broiler chicken carcass can be exposed to the drippings and juices of many thousands of other birds that went thorough the same cold water tank after slaughter.
Fruits and vegetables consumed raw are a particular concern. Washing can decrease but not eliminate contamination, so the consumers can do little to protect themselves.
See your doctor if you have:
- High fever (temperature over 101.5 F, measured orally.
- Blood in the stools.
- Prolonged vomiting that prevents keeping liquids down (which can lead to dehydration).
- Signs of dehydration, including a decrease in urination, a dry mouth and throat, and feeling dizzy when standing up.
- Diarrheal illness that lasts more than three days.
Don’t be surprised if your doctor does not prescribe an antibiotic. Many diarrheal illnesses are caused by viruses and will improve in two or three days without antibiotic therapy. In fact, antibiotics have no effect on viruses, and using an antibiotic to treat a viral infection could cause more harm than good. It is often not necessary to take an antibiotic even in the case of a mild bacterial infection.
Overuse of antibiotics is the principle reason many bacteria are becoming resistant. Resistant bacteria are no longer killed by the antibiotic. This means that it is important to use antibiotics only when they are really needed. Partial treatment can also cause bacteria to become resistant.
If an antibiotic is prescribed, it is important to take all for the medication as prescribed and not stop early just because the symptoms seems to be improving.
Dr. Rohit Bhalla