Food Poisoning

By Ifeyinwa Ugo-Amadi

Food borne disease also called food poisoning is any illness that arises from the consumption of contaminated foods. Food contaminants are biological, physical, or chemical. The most common biological food contaminants are bacteria.  Others are parasites, viruses and moulds. Toxins, pesticides, hair, nitrates, mercury, cleaning chemicals etc are examples of some non-biological contaminants in foods. Contamination of foods can occur at any point in the food process, from the production on the farm to the consumption. Common food borne diseases are cholera, typhoid fever, dysentery, botulism, shigellosis etc.
 Food borne diseases are usually caused by improper handling, storage and preparation of food. When proper hygienic procedures are ensured before, during and after food preparation, contamination is unlikely to set in. Handlers of food are responsible for any form of contamination thus care ought to be taken in their engagement.
Within 1900 and 1907, an asymptomatic carrier of Salmonella typhi- the causative organism for typhoid spread the disease in seven families in which she worked as a cook. ‘Typhoid Mary’ as she was later nicknamed carried the typhoid organism in her gall bladder but refused to have it removed. She did not come down with any fever but distributed the organism via unhygienic food preparations. Upon investigation, she was isolated by the New York Public Health Department and was released after being advised to stop cooking. She took a job as a laundress but left it because it paid less. Changing her name, she went back into cooking where she infected more people, causing an epidemic. She was presumed to have infected 51 people of which 3 died of typhoid fever.  Finally, she was arrested and quarantined for 30 years until she died.
People more susceptible to food borne diseases are pregnant women, older adults, persons with chronic diseases, infants and young children. Persons in these categories have their immunity compromised or not well developed to fight the contaminants. Most clinical presentation of food poisoning takes the form of gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, nausea and abdominal cramp.
Treatment involves the replacement of lost fluids due to persistent diarrhea. Some may require the use of antibiotics while others may be resolved without treatment. Other applicable home remedies include not eating or drinking for a while (in order to attain stability), taking sips of water, taking bland foods (such as crackers, bananas etc) with caution and taking enough rest.
Complications associated with food poisoning include kidney failure, chronic arthtritis, brain and nerve damage and death. It can lead to a miscarriage, premature birth or stillbirth in pregnant women.


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