Food Poisoning - Medical Malpractice Lawyers

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Food Poisoning - Medical Malpractice

Food poisoning or foodbourne illnesses are common diseases that are fortunately usually temporary and mild. The usual symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal cramping. The symptoms occur within 48 hours of eating a tainted food or drink; however, in some cases, it can take a bit longer. Some people get fever and chills, dehydration and bloody stools. It all depends on the dose of the foodbourne bacterium, toxin or virus as well as the type of illness involved. It can occur as an isolated illness or as an outbreak, with many people involved.

There are over 5 million cases of foodbourne illness per year in Canada, along with over 10,000 hospitalizations. As many as 500 people die from foodbourne illnesses per year. The most common infectious agents include Norovirus and salmonella. In the developing world, foodbourne illnesses are much more common, especially among travelers to the affected areas of the world.

There are at least 250 different diseases classified as foodbourne illnesses. Many of these conditions are completely unknowable and haven't yet been identified. Many people have symptoms that are too mild to even come to the attention of the medical community. There are two major categories of foodbourne agents. These include infectious agents and toxic agents. Infectious agents include bacteria, parasites and viruses, of which there are many. Of toxic agents, these can include poisonous mushrooms, certain pesticides on unwashed fruits and vegetables and toxins on certain exotic foods. Lack of proper hand washing is the major cause of foodbourne illnesses.

The symptoms you get depend on the agent involved in the foodbourne illness. The symptoms can come on as rapidly as within 30 minutes of the ingestion or very slowly, occurring over days or weeks. Common symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramping, fever, chills diarrhoea and abdominal distension.

A common virus is the cause of most cases of food poisoning. This includes Norovirus, which causes a simple case of stomach flu. It is usually transmitted by bad water or unwashed shellfish and vegetables. It tends to occur in outbreaks such as with cruise ships, schools and nursing homes. Rotavirus is common in children, who have watery diarrhoea and vomiting. It can be transmitted from person to person due to poor hand washing. Hepatitis A is a virus that can cause illness several weeks after exposure. It can temporarily do damage to the liver, leading to jaundice or yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes.

Bacteria cause foodbourne illness by direct infection or by making toxins that inflame the lining of the stomach or intestines. The infection can lead to difficulty absorbing water and nutrients, so that diarrhoea results. Toxins can go outside of the intestines, leading to kidney failure and death if not treated properly. Some bacteria that can cause foodbourne illnesses include Salmonella, Campylobacter, Staphylococcus aureus, Bacillus cereus, E. coli and Shigella. Rarer types of infectious agents include Listeria monocytogenes, Clostridium botulinum, Vibrio cholera (which causes cholera) and Vibrio parahemolyticus.

Parasites that can cause foodbourne illnesses include Giardia, which is a waterbourne illness, and Cryptosporidium. This can last a long time in those who are immunosuppressed but are not so dangerous in the average person.

Certain mushroom toxins can cause foodbourne illnesses. You need to be careful not to eat mushrooms you aren't completely sure of. There is another illness called ciguatera poisoning which is caused by eating fish that contains the toxin made by indwelling algae called Gambierdiscus toxicus. Pesticides are by nature toxic and can cause blurry vision, cramps, diarrhoea, increased saliva production and arm or leg shaking. These come from unwashed food such as fruits and vegetables.

The diagnosis of foodbourne illnesses can be done by doing blood tests showing and elevated white blood count and a stool sample, from which a culture of a virus or bacteria can be obtained. A urine sample can assess the person for kidney failure or dehydration.

Treatment can include medications for vomiting and diarrhoea. Fluid must be replaced, either orally or by intravenous means. Fever can be treated as well with acetaminophen or other anti-fever medications.

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The author of the substantive medical writing on this website is Dr. Christine Traxler MD whose biography can be read here