Why Food Poisoning Can Become Deadly


Table of Contents

What Is Food Poisoning?

Food poisoning, often referred to as foodborne illness, can cause significant illness and even result in fatal outcomes not expected by the family.

Food poisoning occurs when a person consumes food or beverages contaminated by bacteria, parasites, or worms. It is most serious for people who are pregnant, over the age of 65, under the age of 5, and people who have a compromised immune system.

Food poisoning causes nausea, vomiting, abdominal pains, headaches, and diarrhoea. In mild cases, symptoms usually go away within a few days, but in severe cases, food poisoning can cause significant vital organ damage and system complications resulting in death.

It might surprise you to learn there are over 250 types of food poisoning. If that sounds like an extraordinarily large number of bacteria or parasites lurking in the environment or inside your food, it is! The most commonly known and discussed culprits that often cause food poisoning and make media appearances are:

  • Salmonella: Raw eggs and undercooked poultry are common sources of salmonella poisoning. Salmonella is singularly responsible for the highest number of hospitalisations that result in death from food poisoning.

  • E. coli: is most frequently found in undercooked meat. Surprisingly it is also found in raw vegetables. E. coli can cause serious health problems, especially in young children, vegans, and vegetarians.

  • Listeria: Bacteria in soft cheeses, deli meats, and raw sprouts can cause an infection called listeriosis, which is especially dangerous for pregnant women.

  • Campylobacter: This common bacterial infection producing severe GI upset can linger for weeks. Usually, culprits are found in poorly processed meats, contaminated vegetables, milk, or water sources. This form of food poisoning is generally self-limited and is rarely fatal.

  • Staphylococcus aureus (staph): A staph infection occurs when people transfer the staph bacteria from their hands to food. All of the Staph family are highly prevalent in our everyday lives. Ironically, the highest numbers of Staph bacteria can be found in hospitals and hotels.

  • Norovirus: Highly infectious in nature, people get norovirus by eating undercooked shellfish or consuming food that a sick person, or someone exposed to an infected person prepared

This is one of the main culprits picked up by eating fast food or food prepared in restaurants by infected people who do not wash their hands after using the bathroom.

  • Clostridium perfringens: Raw meat or poultry and pre-cooked frozen foods are common sources of clostridium. It can cause gastrointestinal symptoms, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pains, and diarrhoea within 6-24 hours. It generally lasts a day or two but can last up to a week.

  • Trichinella spiralis are worms found in raw or undercooked meats, particularly in pork products. It is essential that all meat products be cooked thoroughly to kill off all bacteria!

  • Other known causes: include the family of cryptosporidium and streptococcus.

How Common Is Food Poisoning

Food poisoning is exceptionally common. According to the World Health Organisation, “An estimated 600 million – almost 1 in 10 people in the world – fall ill after eating contaminated food, and 420 000 die every year, resulting in the loss of 33 million healthy [lives] each year.” It is more prevalent in people who eat their meat and vegetables raw or undercooked. The majority of food poisoning cases are not severe enough to warrant hospitalisation but do require medical treatment and assessment.

Who Is At Risk Of Food Poisoning

Everyone is potentially at risk when it comes to contracting a dose of food poisoning. Select individuals and isolated groups are more likely to suffer the effects of food poisoning after eating contaminated food. People who have a higher risk of foodborne illness are:

  • Vegans / Vegetarians
  • Anyone who eats raw or undercooked meat
  • Bodybuilders who consume raw eggs for protein
  • Pregnant women
  • In utero foetuses
  • Adults over age 65
  • Children under age 5
  • People with weakened immune systems due to Covid-19, cancer, HIV, or other immune system illnesses.
  • People taking certain medications might also have the side effect of temporarily entering a high-risk category while on the medications.

What Are The Symptoms Of Food Poisoning

Food poisoning symptoms range in severity from mild to severe and depend largely on the source of contamination. Symptoms may appear any time after the first hour of consumption up to six hours post-eating the contaminated food. In some extreme cases where worms or parasites are the cause, they may take days or weeks to develop. The most recognisable symptoms of food poisoning are diarrhoea and vomiting. Other common symptoms of foodborne illness include:

  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhoea lasting more than three (3) days
  • A fever higher than 38.9°C (102°F)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever / Chills
  • Difficulty seeing or speaking.

Symptoms of severe dehydration include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Passing little to no urine
  • Difficulty keeping fluids down
  • Bloody urine

How Do People Contract Food Poisoning

People contract the foodborne illness by eating or drinking contaminated fluids or consumable food sources. Food can be contaminated at any stage during initial dispatching and cleaning of the animal, incorrect storage, unhygienic preparation, and undercooking cooking.

Contamination occurs when food is not cleaned and prepared thoroughly, is handled in an unsanitary manner, is not cooked to a safe internal temperature, not refrigerated, brined, salted or frozen promptly.

How Is Food Poisoning Diagnosed

A doctor will evaluate your symptoms and ask for details about what you have consumed or had to drink in the last twenty-four hours. Depending on your symptoms, your doctor will often take a stool sample and order a blood test to check for parasites or bacteria in your bloodstream.

How Do I Know If I Have Food Poisoning

If your symptoms appear after eating a particular food, or at a particular establishment, and if other people who ate the same food, or in the same establishment are also sick, you may have a case of food poisoning. Symptoms of food poisoning are strikingly similar to symptoms of gastroenteritis in that both produce vomiting and diarrhoea with a temperature spike. 

Regardless of which it is, both need to be identified and treated as both have the potential to become deadly in some cases if left untreated. Food poisoning can begin to manifest from (30) thirty minutes after eating contaminated food and last for as long as (8) eight weeks, with the average duration being (1) one week.

Treatments For Food Poisoning

In the majority of cases, the body manages food poisoning on its own by using the intestines and liver to remove and expel the toxins. If you become severely dehydrated from vomiting or diarrhoea, products designed to rehydrate you with electrolyte replacement are recommended. However, you may need to be hospitalised and cannulated with intravenous fluids administered. Doctors may prescribe antibiotics to treat food poisoning caused by certain bacteria and drugs to kill worms and parasites.

 Fatal Complications Associated With Food Poisoning

Complications from food poisoning are generally manageable for most people. However, in some cases, they can suddenly become severe and turn fatal. In extreme cases, the following may occur in a serious to potentially deadly scenario.

Kidney damage: E. coli can lead to haemolytic uremic syndrome, kidney failure and renal shutdown.

Miscarriage or stillbirth: Listeria infection is especially dangerous for unborn babies because the bacteria can cause neurological damage and death in utero, causing the developing embryo to miscarry or the foetus to be stillborn.

Brain damage: Some bacteria or viruses can cause infections in the brain called meningitis. Some meningitis types also have the potential to develop brain encephalitis, further adding to the damage and destruction of the brain that ultimately results in death.

Dehydration: The most common complication of foodborne illness, dehydration, can be fatal if not treated. Dehydration is especially common in young children and takes effect rapidly due to their small body mass. Pushing fluids in the form of an IV line and saline solution with electrolytes will counteract their dehydration and assist their body in fighting the poisoning.

Arthritis: Salmonella and campylobacter bacteria can cause chronic arthritis and joint damage and can exacerbate any pre-existing conditions.

Death: In severe cases, food poisoning can be fatal, especially for people in the high-risk group listed previously in this article.

First Aid Certification

Like anything internal, it is exceptionally difficult to look at a person and instantly know what is wrong with them. Many conditions share signs and symptoms with each other in the initial stages. Having First Aid knowledge and training allows you to know sooner than those without it when something isn’t right and has become a medical emergency requiring First Aid treatment.

Sign up with a registered training organisation specialising in First Aid certification nationally and receive your same-day qualifications in basic First Aid and CPR for less than $100.00. If you have previously qualified for your basic First Aid certification, it might be time to take a refresher course or step up to the Advanced First Aid Course. There is no excuse for not having the basic skills and knowledge to save a life when the cost of gaining nationally recognised certification has never been cheaper! Check out our fun facts and interesting topics FACE Blog page for more information and motivation

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