Food is needed to stay healthy. Food should make you feel comfortable and satisfied after consumption. However, sometimes food can cause illness, particularly if it is spoiled or contaminated due to any toxin substance. Illness caused by consuming contaminated foods is called food poisoning. This article discusses what food poisoning is and why some age groups are at greater risk of it.
While it is important to know what food poisoning is, it is also necessary to know the cause and risk factors for it. The main causes of food poisoning are microorganisms and the way they spread makes some people more prone to food poisoning.
Causes for Food Poisoning
Major causes of food poisoning are an invasion of pathogens like parasites, virus, and bacteria into the foods.
- Viruses: Viruses like sapovirus, norovirus, astrovirus and rotavirus can cause food poisoning. Food contaminated with Hepatitis A virus causes a serious illness called Hepatitis A.
- Bacteria: The most common reason for food poisoning is bacteria. Bacteria like salmonella and Listeria causes infection and it is transmitted through food. One more bacteria E.coli is found in the intestine of humans and some other animals. This is one of the most common causes of food poisoning.
- Parasites: Though food poisoning by parasites is not very common, Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite can cause this illness. It is found in the meat of lamb and also in pork if not cooked well. The condition caused by this parasite is known as toxoplasmosis. The parasite is also found in feces of the cat. The pregnant women if comes in contact with the feces containing this parasite may give birth to a baby with congenital defects. Hence, it is important to keep cats away from pregnant women to avoid the risk of infection. It affects the people if they already have a weak immune system.
Contamination of Food
Spoiling of food or the food becoming unfit to eat is called contamination. This occurs when:
- Foods are not cooked properly.
- The person consumes unhygienic raw foods.
- The insects like housefly bring the microbes from the fecal matter to the foods.
- Cooking with untidy hands.
- Pathogens start degrading foods like meat, fish, and eggs.
Why Are Some Age Groups At Greater Risk of Food Poisoning?
Food poisoning is a kind of illness and can bother people irrespective of age and gender. Some people are at risk to a larger extent. When discussing food poisoning it is necessary to understand why some age groups are at greater risk of food poisoning.
Here are the age groups that are at greater risk of food poisoning include the following:
- Intestinal infection can be caused by Salmonella in small children usually under the age of 5 years. They suffer from dehydration and diarrhea if they are infected. They suffer more because their immune system is not so developed. The weak immune system makes children more susceptible to food poisoning. Contamination of food can occur in various ways in young children and the risk of unintentional food poisoning is high.1
- Food poisoning with salmonella can affect middle-aged and older adults.2 In old age, the immune system becomes weak and fails to recognize the pathogens. Hence these people easily get infected by salmonella. Some studies have also shown that elderly people in long term care facilities may be at greater risk of gastroenteritis and foodborne diseases.3
- Pregnant women have a weak immune system and are more prone to any kind of infections. This raises their risk of infection by food poisoning, which can have a bad impact on the unborn baby also.
- Some people acquire a weak immune system due to the presence of some other diseases like AIDS, diabetes or diseases related to kidney. Such people are at greater risk of food poisoning.
- The people who are undergoing cancer treatments like radiation therapy and chemotherapy are more prone to getting an infection.
- Youngsters who have the habit of eating stale foods have more chances of getting food poisoning. Pathogens easily enter the foods kept open on the roadside and spoil them, thus spreading food-borne infections.
Symptoms of Food Poisoning
In most cases, symptoms of food poisoning are expressed immediately, while for some, the symptoms may take time to appear.
Some of the symptoms of food poisoning are listed here:
Immediate medical support is needed when:
- The person feels a visual abnormality
- Speech is disturbed
- Diarrhea continues even after 3 to 4 days
- Blood is excreted with urine
- The temperature reaches more than 101.50 F
- The person is dehydrated
- The patient finds it difficult to swallow even the fluids
Diagnosis and Treatment of Food Poisoning
Clinical symptoms usually help to diagnose food poisoning. However, in some severe conditions, stool test and blood tests are conducted to confirm the condition. These may also be done to rule out other possible infections. Doctors also observe whether the patient has dehydration or not.
The following treatments are provided in this condition:
- The patient must be hydrated soon. Oral rehydration with normal water ORS, fruit juice and tender coconut helps a lot.
- Intravenous fluids are given to patients if the dehydration is severe.
Some over-the-counter medicines are also available, but it is best to follow an expert’s advice. Diarrhea and vomiting are the two ways in which a body kicks out the pathogens and toxins. Hence, it is very essential to consult a medical professional before taking medicines for these two symptoms.
Doctors also advice antibiotics to get rid of bacterial infections.
In gastrointestinal infections, the entire process of digestion is affected. It is important to follow a healthy diet to manage the discomfort and modify the diet after complete cure, to avoid relapse of the illness. During the infections, it is essential to have soft and easily digestible foods, which have low-fat content. This includes bananas, rice, decaffeinated drinks, gelatin, chicken broth, and boiled vegetables. It is always better to eat homemade foods, which are both nutritious and hygienic.
It is necessary to avoid milk and its products, spices, fried and greasy foods, foods with high fat and high sugar as they can increase gastric irritation. These are strict to be avoided. With a well-planned diet and well-cooked hygienic foods, one can avoid food poisoning.
It is important to create awareness among young adults and teenagers. Awareness of proper hand washing methods and safe food handling measures are needed. Proper education of school going children by the health and nutrition experts too can help.
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