Food Poisoning Health (cont.)

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Food Poisoning Causes

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More than 250 known diseases can be transmitted through food. The CDC estimates unknown or undiscovered agents cause 68% of all food-borne illnesses and related hospitalizations. Many cases of food poisoning are not reported because people suffer mild symptoms and recover quickly. Also, doctors do not test for a cause in every suspected case because it does not change the treatment or the outcome.

The known causes of food poisoning can be divided into two categories: infectious agents and toxic agents.

  • Infectious agents include viruses, bacteria, and parasites.
  • Toxic agents include poisonous mushrooms, improperly prepared exotic foods (such as barracuda - ciguatera toxin), or pesticides on fruits and vegetables.

Food usually becomes contaminated from poor sanitation or preparation. Food handlers who do not wash their hands after using the bathroom or have infections themselves often cause contamination. Improperly packaged food stored at the wrong temperature also promotes contamination.

Food Poisoning Symptoms

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Symptoms of food poisoning depend on the type of contaminant and the amount eaten. The symptoms can develop rapidly, within 30 minutes, or slowly, worsening over days to weeks. Most of the common contaminants cause:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • abdominal cramping
  • fever

Usually food poisoning is not serious, and the illness runs its course in 24-48 hours.

Viral Symptoms

Viruses account for most food poisoning cases where a specific contaminant is found.

  • Noroviruses are a group of viruses that cause a mild illness (often termed "stomach flu") with nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, headache, and low-grade fever. These symptoms usually resolve in two to three days. It is the most common viral cause of adult food poisoning and is transmitted from water, shellfish, and vegetables contaminated by feces, as well as from person to person. Outbreaks are more common in densely populated areas such as nursing homes, schools, and cruise ships (hence the viral infection is also known as the "Cruise Ship Illness"). The term Norovirus has been approved as the official name for this group of viruses. Several other names have been used for noroviruses, including Norwalk-like viruses, caliciviruses (because they belong to the virus family Caliciviridae), and small round structured viruses.
  • Rotavirus: Causes moderate to severe illness with vomiting followed by watery diarrhea and fever. It is the most common cause of food poisoning in infants and children and is transmitted from person to person by fecal contamination of food and shared play areas.
  • Hepatitis A: Causes moderate illness with sudden onset of fever, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, and feeling of tiredness followed by jaundice, which is a yellowing of the eyes and skin. Symptoms usually last less than two months, but can be prolonged or relapse for up to six months. It is transmitted from person to person by fecal contamination of food.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/12/2013

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