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food poisoning

Food poisoning is an illness caused by eating foods contaminated with organisms that cause infections or toxins.

What is going on in the body? 
Food poisoning most commonly starts within 2 to 3 hours after eating. The time period can be shorter or much longer, however. Usually, once symptoms start they get worse fairly quickly.

What are the signs and symptoms of the condition? 
Food poisoning can cause: What are the causes and risks of the condition? 
The most common types of food poisoning are named for the bacteria and organisms that cause the condition. The common types of food poisoning are caused by Salmonella, Shigella, E. coli bacteria. Food poisoning is also caused by S. aureus or Campylobacter as well as by certain viruses, parasites and chemical toxins or mild poisons found in seafood, plants, or contaminated foods.

What can be done to prevent the condition? 
Food must be properly prepared and stored to prevent food poisoning. Food poisoning can occur when food is left not refrigerated for long periods of time, often at picnics or large parties. Sometimes, mishandling or misidentification of foods, especially certain exotic dishes, causes food poisoning. Those who handle or prepare food should wash their hands or wear gloves to prevent contaminating food.

How is the condition diagnosed? 
Many times the diagnosis is presumed because of the timing of events. A person often eats somewhere unusual, then feels sick within a few hours. Most cases of food poisoning go away within 24 hours. With this type of history, assuming a person does get better, little other testing is done. If needed, such as in large outbreaks, the food can be examined, as well as affected people's stool and vomited material. The exact cause can be determined by finding toxins or organisms that are known to cause the illness.

What are the long-term effects of the condition? 
Treated victims usually recover fully within 24 hours. The very young, the very old, and those who have weakened immune systems can become quite ill very quickly. If victims are not treated right away, death can occur.

What are the risks to others? 
This is not a condition that can be passed from one individual to another. Those who ate the same food as someone with food poisoning are at risk of getting the condition.

What are the treatments for the condition? 
Food poisoning usually causes dehydration from the loss of body fluids in diarrhoea and vomit. Replacing fluids and various salts in the body is important. This can be done in the hospital or in a clinic if a person cannot keep liquids down. Fluids and salt can be replaced through an intravenous tube (IV). Home treatment is all that is needed in mild cases when nausea and vomiting are not severe. Nausea and the diarrhoea may be relieved by certain drugs, such as metoclopramide, proclorperazine, promethazine or diphenoxylate. These are rarely needed or given, however.

What are the side effects of the treatments? 
Side effects are uncommon, but any medications given have possible side effects. Specific side effects depend on the drugs given.

What happens after treatment for the condition? 
People generally recover within 24 hours and feel back to normal within 2 days. A return to normal activities is usually allowed as soon as a person feels better.

How is the condition monitored? 
A doctor will help monitor the disease if a person becomes very ill. If symptoms last for more than 24 hours, medical care should be sought. If a person becomes lightheaded, is unable to stand, or has blood in the vomit or diarrhoea, a doctor should be contacted.

Author: James Broomfield, MD
Reviewer: eknowhow Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr John Hearne
Last Updated: 19/02/2005
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.

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