Every year, approximately 76 million Americans suffer from some sort of food poisoning. Often the symptoms of food poisoning are thought of as a stomach bug or stomach flu. Typically, the symptoms of food poisoning disappear within 48 hours, but they can sometimes become very dangerous. Food poisoning is responsible for 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths each year.
There are two types of food poisoning: food poisoning from viruses and food poisoning from bacteria. While the way a person gets each of these differs, the symptoms are very similar and include nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea.
Food Poisoning Viruses
Noroviruses cause mild illnesses that are often mislabeled as the stomach flu. It is the most common food poisoning found in adults. The symptoms of noroviruses include vomiting, diarrhea, headache, and fever. It is transmitted by contaminated feces. Feces can get into food when food handlers do not wash their hands after using the bathroom. It can also be spread by touching contaminated surfaces. This virus has become famous because of the numerous problems it has caused on cruise ships over the past several years.
Rotaviruses are the most common food poisoning affecting small children. Like noroviruses, rotaviruses are passed from person to person by fecal contamination of food and play areas. Symptoms usually include vomiting and watery diarrhea.
Food Poisoning Bacteria
Several bacteria also cause food poisoning. Symptoms of bacterial poisoning are very similar to those of viruses. Symptoms can include nausea and vomiting. In rare cases, bacterial poisoning can lead to kidney failure and death.
Salmonella alone is responsible for 2-4 million illnesses per year in the US and 500 deaths. Salmonella is typically results from eating undercooked food. Symptoms of salmonella poisoning usually last for 1-2 days and include nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramping, diarrhea, fever and headache..
E coli is another common bacterial cause of food poisoning that has gained media attention. E coli is transmitted through undercooked foods as well as unpasteurized milks and juices. Symptoms typically include watery diarrhea that becomes bloody diarrhea.
Shigella, also known as travelerís diarrhea, is common among people who travel to underdeveloped parts of the world. Shigella is caused by water polluted with human feces. Drinking bottled water or boiling water before drinking is the best way to avoid these bacteria. Symptoms of shigella include fever, diarrhea, and a constant urge to have a bowel movement.
Treating Food Poisoning
Most cases of food poisoning, from any source, can be treated at home. The person should be given plenty of clear liquids and avoid caffeine, sugar, and alcohol. Symptoms should subside after 24 hours and solid foods should be slowly reintroduced.
Rarely, symptoms of food poisoning can become severe. If the infected person becomes dehydrated or runs an extremely high temperature, medical attention should be sought immediately. A physician should also be consulted if symptoms persist for more than 24 hours.