Food poisoning is a common illness caused by consuming contaminated food or beverages. In most cases, food poisoning symptoms resemble those of the flu, and will only last a few days. In more severe cases, however, food poisoning can be fatal. If you're not sure that you have food poisoning or something else, here's some information to help you make a better diagnosis.
People affected by contaminated food or drinks will typically experience the following flu-like symptoms within 48 hours of consumption: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps. Depending on the severity of the poisoning, you may also experience dehydration, fever, chills and bloody stools.
According to the Centers for Disease control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 76 million people are affected by food-borne illnesses each year. Of those, 300,000 require hospitalization and approximately 5,000 result in death. Many cases of food poisoning do not get reported, however, because the symptoms are mild and dissipate within a few days.
In many cases, food contamination occurs when food handlers engage in unsanitary practices such as not washing their hands after using the bathroom or handling raw meat. According to the CDC, there have been more than 250 different types of food-borne diseases identified thus far (as of 2009), caused by various bacteria, viruses and parasites.
The CDC describes the most commonly seen and recognized food-borne infections as those caused by a group of viruses known as calicivirus (Norwalk viruses) or campylobacter, salmonella and E.coli 0158:H7. While the illnesses are caused by different bacteria, the symptoms are usually similar and include severe abdominal cramping, diarrhea and fever. Severe instances may result in life-threatening infections and will require medical treatment.
If you are unsure if you have food poisoning, seek medical attention if your symptoms do not get better within three days of onset or if you experience any of the following: high fever (exceeding 101.5 degrees F), bloody stools, dehydration (including decreased urinations, dry mouth and throat and dizziness), diarrhea for more than three days or excessive vomiting.