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Food poisoning (foodborne illness) is caused by bacteria or viruses found in food.
Millions of Americans get food poisoning each year.
Food poisoning symptoms often look like stomach flu (gastroenteritis). Many people with a mild case think they have stomach flu or a virus.
Most food poisoning is caused by eating food that has certain types of bacteria or viruses. When you eat these foods, the bacteria keeps growing in your digestive tract. This causes an infection.
Foods can also make you ill if they have a toxin or poison made by bacteria growing in the food.
Several types of bacteria can cause food poisoning. Among the more common bacteria are:
You can also get food poisoning from viral diseases such as Hepatitis A. These viral diseases:
Botulism is a rare but deadly form of food poisoning. It is caused by a bacteria (clostridium botulinum) that is found all over, even in soil and water.
Botulism can happen when:
Anyone can get food poisoning. But some people are more likely to get it than others. They are also at greater risk of getting very ill from it. This is because their body’s disease-fighting system (immune system) doesn’t work well.
People who are at greater risk include:
Food poisoning symptoms can look like the symptoms of stomach flu (gastroenteritis). Many people with mild cases of food poisoning think they have stomach flu.
The time it takes food poisoning symptoms to start can vary. Illness often starts in about 1 to 3 days. But symptoms can start any time from 30 minutes to 3 weeks after eating contaminated food. The length of time depends on the type of bacteria or virus causing the illness.
Each person’s symptoms may vary. Symptoms can range from very mild to very serious. They can last from a few hours to several days. Symptoms may include:
Food poisoning symptoms may look like other health problems. Always see your healthcare provider to be sure.
Your healthcare provider will ask you when you became sick, what your symptoms are, and what foods you have eaten.
Your provider will also look at your past health. He or she will give you a physical exam.
You may have lab tests to find out what bacteria caused your illness. In some cases the cause can’t be found.
Most mild cases of food poisoning are treated the same as stomach flu (gastroenteritis). If you have diarrhea or vomiting, you may lose a lot of fluids (get dehydrated). The goal is to replace your lost fluids and ease your symptoms.
For some types of bacterial food poisoning, your health care provider may give you a medicine that fights bacteria (an antibiotic). Antibiotics don’t work on infections caused by a virus.
In severe cases you may need to be hospitalized.
Call your health care provider if you can’t keep fluids down. Also call if your symptoms don’t go away.
To prevent food poisoning, wash your hands often. Also prepare and store food safely.
Always wash your hands after:
When preparing food be sure to:
When choosing food to eat be sure to:
When storing food be sure to:
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