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Food Poisoning

What is food poisoning and what causes it?

Food poisoning is when you get sick after you eat contaminated food. Bacteria, such as listeria, salmonella, or E coli, may cause food poisoning. Viruses, such as rotavirus, and parasites, such as giardia, may also cause food poisoning. The exact cause of your food poisoning may not be known. Food poisoning most commonly happens when you eat raw or undercooked food. Meat, seafood, produce, and dairy products are common foods that can become contaminated.

What increases my risk for food poisoning?

  • Age: Babies, young children, and older adults are more likely to get food poisoning.

  • A weak immune system: Medical conditions such as diabetes, cancer, or kidney problems may weaken your immune system. This means your body may not be able to fight off the germs that cause food poisoning.

What are the signs and symptoms of food poisoning?

You may have any of the following:

  • Diarrhea

  • Abdominal cramps or pain

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Fever

  • Fatigue or weakness

How is food poisoning diagnosed?

Your caregiver will ask you to describe your symptoms and list the foods you have eaten recently. He will ask when you last ate, and where you were. He will want to know if anyone who ate with you is also sick. Your caregiver will examine your abdomen and check for signs of dehydration. Dehydration can happen if you have diarrhea or are vomiting. You may also need the following:

  • Vomit or stool tests: Caregivers may test your vomit or bowel movement for the toxin that causes botulism.

  • Blood tests: You may need blood taken to give caregivers information about how your body is working. The blood may be taken from your hand, arm, or IV.

How is food poisoning treated?

The following can help ease your symptoms:

  • Oral rehydration solution (ORS): You will need to drink fluids or an ORS to prevent dehydration. An ORS contains a balance of water, salt, and sugar to replace body fluids lost during vomiting and diarrhea. Ask what kind of ORS to use, how much to drink, and where to get it.

  • Bland foods: After you can keep an ORS down for 3 or 4 hours, eat something bland. Examples of bland foods are soup or broth with crackers. Follow a BRATT diet until you feel better. BRATT stands for bananas, rice, applesauce, toast, and tea. Avoid sugary drinks, caffeine, and alcohol because they may worsen your symptoms. Breastfeed as usual if you are a nursing mother. Do this to prevent your baby from becoming dehydrated.

  • Medicines:

    • Diarrhea medicine: This is given to slow or stop your diarrhea.

    • Vomiting medicine: This is given to calm your stomach and stop your vomiting.

    • Antibiotics: This medicine may be given if caregivers believe your food poisoning is caused by bacteria. Take your antibiotics until they are gone, even if you start to feel better sooner.

What are the risks of food poisoning?

Diarrhea or vomiting can make you dehydrated. Dehydration can be very serious for children, older adults, and anyone with a weak immune system. Watch a young child closely because he can become dehydrated quickly. Ask your caregiver for more information about the risks of food poisoning.

How can food poisoning be prevented?

Follow these rules at home to prevent food poisoning:

  • Cook food all the way through: Cook eggs until the yolks are firm. Use a meat thermometer to make sure meat is heated to a temperature that will kill bacteria. Do not eat raw or undercooked poultry, seafood, or meat.

  • Clean thoroughly: Wash your hands in warm, soapy water for 20 seconds before and after you handle food. Wash your hands after you use the bathroom, change a diaper, or touch an animal. Rinse fruits and vegetables in running water. Clean cutting boards, knives, countertops, and other areas where you prepare food before and after you cook. Wash sponges and dishtowels weekly in hot water.

  • Store food properly: Refrigerate or freeze fruits and vegetables, cooked foods, and leftovers right away. Keep your refrigerator at 40 degrees F or lower and your freezer at 0 degrees F.

  • Separate raw and cooked foods: Keep raw meat and its juices away from other foods to prevent the spread of bacteria. Always put cooked food on a clean platter. Never use a platter that held raw meat.

When should I follow up with my caregiver?

Your symptoms should go away in 2 to 5 days. Follow up with your caregiver if your symptoms are not going away after 2 days of treatment.

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • You are very thirsty and your mouth and tongue are dry.

  • Your diarrhea has lasted more than 3 days.

  • You have bloody diarrhea.

  • You have diarrhea and a fever higher than 101.5°F.

When should I seek immediate help?

Seek care immediately if your vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain continue and you develop the following new symptoms:

  • You are vomiting so often that you cannot keep any liquid down.

  • You have a fever and pale skin, and you feel irritated and tired.

  • You are very drowsy or cannot stay awake.

  • Your eyes are sunken and so dry you have no tears.

  • Your arms and legs feel colder than normal, or they look blue.

  • You urinate small amounts or not at all.

  • You feel dizzy or confused.

  • You have severe pain in your abdomen.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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