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Food Poisoning, Its Symptoms, Causes and Diagnosis

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What is food poisoning?

Food poisoning is the most common name for a foodborne illness that results from eating contaminated, toxic or spoiled food. Some of the most common signs and symptoms of food poisoning are vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea.

Even though it’s really uncomfortable, food poisoning isn’t unusual. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 48 million people in the United States (or about 1 out of 7) contract some form of food poisoning yearly. Of these 48 million, 128,000 get hospitalized.

Symptoms of food poisoning

If you’ve food poisoning, you will probably detect it. Symptoms can vary based on the source of the infection.

Here are a few common symptoms of food poisoning you should watch out for:

  • diarrhea
  • abdominal cramps
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • mild fever
  • weakness
  • headache
  • loss of appetite

Symptoms of potentially life-threatening food poisoning include:

  • a fever higher than 102°F (38.9°C)
  • diarrhea that lasts beyond 3 days
  • difficulty seeing or speaking
  • bloody urine
  • symptoms of severe dehydration, that may include dry mouth, passing little or no urine, and difficulty keeping fluids down

If your symptoms include any of these cases above, don’t hesitate to contact a doctor or get immediate medical treatment.

How long does food poisoning last?

The duration it takes for symptoms to surface depends on the source of the infection, but it can vary from as little as 30 minutes to 8 weeks.

Whether you’ve taken treatment or not, most cases will resolve within a week.

Causes of food poisoning

Infections can be passed on from one individual to another when people spread a pathogen by touching food, particularly in cases in which hand hygiene is more difficult to maintain. They’re generally bacteria, viruses, or parasites.

Viral gastroenteritis Viral gastroenteritis is also known as stomach flu.

The types of viruses that most viral gastroenteritis include are:

  • Rotavirus: This one is more common in children and is the number one cause of viral gastroenteritis in children.
  • Norovirus: It infects adults the more.

Less common viral causes include astrovirus, which often affects children and the elderly, including adenoviruses. Cytomegalovirus can cause gastroenteritis, particularly who have a compromised immunity.

Bacterial gastroenteritis

Those microorganisms which most commonly cause bacterial gastroenteritis include:

  • Campylobacter
  • Salmonella
  • Shigella
  • Clostridium difficile
  • Escherichia coli (especially serotype O157:H7)

Parasitic gastroenteritis

Parasites are those organisms that live inside and feed off other organisms for their own survival. Though parasite-causing gastroenteritis is more common in low and middle-income regions, infections by parasites are global. About 450 million people globally get ill yearly.

The two parasites that typically infect the human gastrointestinal tract are known as single-celled protozoa and helminthes. They are worm parasites. Common infections from protozoa include giardiasis and cryptosporidiosis.

How food poisoning is diagnosed

Your symptoms can lead a doctor to diagnose the type of food poisoning you are suffering from. In severe cases, blood tests, stool tests, and the food test of the food you’ve eaten may be conducted to determine the reason you have food poisoning. A doctor may use a urine test as well, to determine if you’re dehydrated due to food poisoning.



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