Food Poisoning Health (cont.)

Medical Author:
Medical Editor:

Bacterial Symptoms

Bacteria can cause food poisoning in two different ways. Some bacteria infect the intestines, causing inflammation and difficulty absorbing nutrients and water, leading to diarrhea. Other bacteria produce chemicals in foods (known as toxins) that are poisonous to the human digestive system. When eaten, these chemicals can lead to nausea and vomiting, kidney failure, and even death.

  • Salmonellae: Salmonellae are bacteria that may cause food poisoning; the illness itself is often referred to as Salmonella or Salmonella infection. The CDC estimates that each year 1 million people are infected with Salmonella, amounting to $365 million in direct medical costs annually. Salmonellae cause a moderate illness with nausea, vomiting, crampy diarrhea, and headache, which may come back a few weeks later as arthritis (joint pains). In people with impaired immune systems (such as people with kidney disease, HIV/AIDS, or those receiving chemotherapy for cancer), Salmonellae can cause a life-threatening illness. The illness is transmitted by undercooked foods such as eggs, poultry, dairy products, and seafood.
  • Campylobacter: Causes mild illness with fever, watery diarrhea, headache, and muscle aches. Campylobacter is the most commonly identified food-borne bacterial infection encountered in the world. It is transmitted by raw poultry, raw milk, and water contaminated by animal feces.
  • Staphylococcus aureus: Causes moderate to severe illness with rapid onset of nausea, severe vomiting, dizziness, and abdominal cramping. These bacteria produce a toxin in foods such as cream-filled cakes and pies, salads (most at risk are potato, macaroni, egg, and tuna salads, for example) and dairy products. Contaminated salads at picnics are common if the food is not chilled properly.
  • Bacillus cereus: Causes mild illness with rapid onset of vomiting, with or without diarrhea and abdominal cramping. It is associated with rice (mainly fried rice) and other starchy foods such as pasta or potatoes. It has been speculated that this bacteria may also be used as a potential terrorist weapon.
  • Escherichia coli (E coli): Causes moderate to severe illness that begins as large amounts of watery diarrhea, which then turns into bloody diarrhea. There are many different types of this bacteria. The worst strain can cause kidney failure and death (about 3% to 5% of all cases). It is transmitted by eating raw or undercooked hamburger, unpasteurized milk or juices, or contaminated well water. Outbreaks of food poisoning due to E. coli have also occurred following ingestion of contaminated produce.
  • Shigella (traveler's diarrhea): Causes moderate to severe illness with fever, diarrhea containing blood or mucus or both, and the constant urge to have bowel movements. It is transmitted in water polluted with human wastes.
  • Listeria monocytogenes: Listeriosis is a moderate to severe illness with nausea and vomiting. Some affected individuals can progress to develop meningitis from Listeria. It is transmitted on many tips of uncooked foods such as meats, fruits, vegetables, soft cheeses, unpasteurized milk, and cold cut meats. Pregnant woman and newborns are at increased risk for serious infections. In 2011, in an outbreak caused by tainted cantaloupe, 25 people died and 123 people were infected in 26 states.
  • Clostridium botulinum (botulism): Causes severe illness affecting the nervous system. Symptoms start as blurred vision. The person then develops problems talking and overall weakness. Symptoms then progress to breathing difficulty and the inability to move arms or legs. Infants and young children are particularly at risk. It is transmitted in foods such as home-packed canned goods, honey, sausages, and seafood.
  • Because botulism can be released in the air, it is considered a potential biological weapon for terrorists.
  • Vibrio cholerae: Causes mild to moderate illness with crampy diarrhea, headache, nausea, vomiting, and fever with chills. It strikes mostly in the warmer months of the year and is transmitted by infected, undercooked, or raw seafood.
  • Vibrio parahaemolyticus: Causes moderate to severe abdominal cramping, nausea, vomiting, and fever. In immunocompromised individuals, it can cause severe or deadly disease. It is transmitted by eating raw or undercooked fish, particularly oysters.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/12/2013

Patient Comments

Viewers share their comments

Food Poisoning - Causes and Experience Question: What caused your food poisoning? Please describe your food-borne illness.
Food Poisoning - Symptoms Question: What were your food poisoning symptoms and signs?
Food Poisoning - Home Remedies Question: What are the home remedies you use for food poisoning?
Food Poisoning - Medical Treatment Question: What type of medical treatment did you receive for food poisoning?