Dr. Tolulope Onafeso, a Senior Registrar at the Department of Family Medicine, General Hospital (Odan), Lagos, talks about food poisoning and its treatments with PUNCH. According to the expert, food poisoning can make pregnant women to have premature birth or parental growth retardation.
What is food poisoning?
Food poison is also known as food borne disease or illness caused by consumption of food or water contaminated by infectious organisms like bacteria, viruses and parasites. It can also be caused by some chemicals.
Why is it possible that if two people eat a particular food, one person is down with food poisoning while the other doesn’t?
It has to do with immunity. Some people’s immunity is low and such people are more at risk of coming down with food poisoning than people with high immunity. Children and aged people have lesser immunity. The quantity of food ingested is also a determining factor.
If a person ingests little and the other person takes more, the person who takes more is likely to come down with food poisoning. Also, the body can produce immunity to fight those things but if the organisms are too much in the body, the body might not be able to handle it all.
If two people eat the same food in different quantities, it would definitely have effect on one person than the other.
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What are some of the symptoms of food poisoning?
The most common symptoms of food poisoning are abdominal pains or cramps which can be mild or severe. It comes with loss of electrolyte in their stool. There are things we call electrolyte in the body like sodium, potassium, calcium that are in the body. If you lose electrolytes through stooling or vomiting, it makes the patient weak.
Another major symptom of food poisoning is weakness. Some also complain of nausea; that means they feel like vomiting but they don’t throw up. Some can also have fever. Other uncommon symptoms are bloating, headache and rash in the abdomen.
What are the types of food poisoning?
The type of food poisoning we have is dependent on the type of bacteria, virus or chemical that caused the poisoning. It could be toxins; the exterotoxins cause a certain kind of fluid in the food which leads to profuse diarrhoea. The enterotoxins damage the wall of the stomach and release blood in return which could be seen in the stool like blood.
What complications can arise from food poisoning?
The commonest one is dehydration; the person can become extremely dehydrated. Children and the aged are easily dehydrated unlike young adults.
For pregnant women, it can lead to premature birth or parental growth retardation. Depending on the organism, listeria dehydration can lead to neurological disorder in children. If it is E-coli, it can damage the kidney. It can lead to arthritis. The complications are numerous but I will limit it to those ones.
How does contamination occur in food or water?
Food gets contaminated during storage or cross contamination; that is when raw food is kept close to ready-to-eat meal. The raw food can contaminate the prepared meal. It is good to keep prepared meal away from raw food.
Some of the pests in the raw food can contaminate the prepared ones. Another thing that causes food contamination is infection of food handlers. That is why we test food handlers for infections a lot. Food can be contaminated by food handlers.
Also, food poisoning can occur through infection from food utensils. Also, when a food is not kept at the right temperature, it can cause contamination.
If food stays too long before one puts them in the refrigerator, it could have been contaminated. Then you think you are preserving the food not knowing you are preserving a contaminated food. Contamination can be during processing, storage, cooking or at the point of consumption.
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What is the first aid treatment for someone down with food poisoning?
The most common symptoms of food poisoning are abdominal pain, vomiting and stooling. The first thing is to take history; ask questions from the person so that you can be sure it is truly food poisoning.
Ask what the person ate, when and where the person ate. After one is sure that it is really food poisoning, one should try to prevent dehydration. One should examine for dehydration. At home, you can rehydrate with Oral Rehydration Solution. It could be mild dehydration; one will notice it through mouth dryness.
You can rehydrate by giving the person water and ORS. If it is severe, the person should be brought to the hospital. There are lots of things that can be done in the hospital that an ordinary person will not be able to do. Also at home, one can check if it is profuse diarrhoea or not.
Start ORS immediately and also check if the person has started to pass out mucus or blood in the stool. ORS is a good first aid treatment for food poisoning.
How is food poisoning treated in the hospital?
The first thing to do is to take a detailed history, examine and investigate. In the history, we try to know what the person ate and all that. We also want to know if there is a blood in the person’s stool. We also like to know if the patient travelled to anywhere because food poisoning has been known to be common among travellers.
In the examination, we check if it is mild dehydration or severe one. We check the stool, if it has blood. We also do examination to know if the stool is oval or parasite. We also do blood examination by taking blood samples. In some extreme cases, we do examinations like endoscopy and the rest.
We also check if the patients have fever or diarrhoea. We do blood culture and when the result of the culture is out, we start treatment. We also ensure that the electrolyte is also restored.
There are some anti-diarrhoea drugs that we can use. We also try as much as possible to educate our patients to avoid recurring case of food poisoning. We tell them about personal hygiene, storage of food and prevention of bacteria on the food. When we do these, we are assured that the patient would not come back for the same case.
How long do the bacteria stay in the body before presentation?
It depends on the bacteria. Sometimes presentation occurs almost immediately and some take days or weeks. For example, E coli takes like eight days before it starts manifesting. That is why history is important. Most times, the body can handle stomach upset without intervention but if it is acute diarrhoea, it is food poisoning. Food poisoning cause acute diarrhoea.
Tags: Dr. Tolulope Onafeso
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