The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 48 million-foodborne illness cases occur in the United States every year. At least 128,000 Americans are hospitalized, and 3,000 die after eating contaminated food. Here are some of the main players:
Botulism is a rare but potentially life-threatening bacterial illness. Clostridium Botulinum bacteria grows on food and produces toxins that, when ingested, cause paralysis. Botulism poisoning is extremely rare, but so dangerous that each case is considered a public health emergency. Studies have shown that there is a 35 to 65 percent chance of death for patients who are not treated immediately and effectively with botulism antitoxin. www.about-botulism.com.
Campylobacter jejuni is the most common cause of bacterial foodborne illness in the United States. Over 6,000 cases of Campylobacter infection were reported in 2009 alone, but many cases are not reported to public health authorities. A 2011 report from the CDC estimates that Campylobacter causes approximately 845,000 illnesses in the United States each year. www.about-campylobacter.com.
Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) is a spore-forming, gram-positive anaerobic bacillus that produces two toxins: toxin A and toxin B. These toxins typically cause gastrointestinal disease, often with severe complications. In rare cases, C. difficile-associated disease can be fatal. Although C. difficile bacteria can be present in human intestinal tracts and cause no clinical symptoms (a condition called colonization), some individuals with C. difficile colonization are at increased risk of becoming ill. The most common risk factor for C. difficile-associated disease is exposure to antibiotics, especially those with broad-spectrum activity. www.about-cdiff.com.
Clostridium perfringens are bacteria that produce toxins harmful to humans. Clostridium perfringens and its toxins are found everywhere in the environment, but human infection is most likely to come from eating food with Clostridium perfringens in it. Food poisoning from Clostridium perfringens fairly common, but is typically not too severe, and is often mistaken for the 24-hour flu. www.about-clostridiumperfringens.com.
Cryptosporidium parvum, also known as “Crypto,” is a parasite found in food and water that has been contaminated by feces from humans or animals. It is highly resistant to normal levels of chlorine, and can survive in pools and drinking water. People usually get cryptosporidium from swallowing contaminated water, eating contaminated food, or coming into contact with contaminated feces. Ingestion of as few as two to ten cryptosporidium oocysts, or parasites, can cause infection. www.about-cryptosporidium.com.
Escherichia coli (E. coli) are bacteria that live in human and animal intestines. Shiga toxin-producing strains of E. coli, or STECs, are responsible for most food-related E. coli infections. E. coli O157:H7 and other STECs like E. coli O145 and E. coli O121:H19 produce a toxin called Shiga toxin, which causes illness in humans. E. coli bacteria do not make animals such as livestock and deer, which harbor the bacteria in their intestines, ill. www.about-ecoli.com.
Hepatitis A is the only common foodborne disease preventable by vaccine. It is one of five hepatitis viruses that infect the liver. While hepatitis B and C can turn into chronic hepatitis, hepatitis A generally does not; although it can lead to liver failure and death. Hepatitis A is rare in the United States, with 30,000 to 50,000 cases occurring each year. However, in most other countries, poorer sanitation systems lead to easier transmission of the disease, and therefore more cases. www.about-hepatitis.com.
Listeria is a bacterium that causes a serious infection called listeriosis. Around 300 deaths are caused by Listeria infection each year, according to estimates from a 2011 CDC report. Listeria bacteria are most commonly found in raw foods. Vegetables can be contaminated by soil and water carrying bacteria. Listeria is also found in raw animal products, such as meat and cheese. www.about-listeria.com.
MRSA, or Methicilin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, is the form of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria (or “staph”) that is resistant to antibiotics. Originally a disease contracted only in hospitals, it is now originating in the community as well, and has recently been cited as a source of foodborne illness. About one percent of the population carries MRSA, and the disease infects 32 per 100,000 people in the United States. Around 6 in 10,000 people die from it each year. www.about-MRSA.com.
Norovirus is the leading cause of gastroenteritis, or what we commonly think of as stomach flu symptoms. It causes 23 million cases of gastroenteritis per year, or over half of all gastroenteritis cases in the U.S., and is the second most common virus after the common cold. Norovirus is usually transmitted from the feces to the mouth, either by drinking contaminated food or water or by passing from person to person. Because noroviruses are easily transmitted, are resistant to common disinfectants, and are hard to contain using normal sanitary measures, they can cause extended outbreaks. www.about-norovirus.com.
Salmonella is the second most common intestinal infection in the United States. More than 7,000 cases of Salmonella were confirmed in 2009; however the majority of cases go unreported. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that over 1 million people in the U.S. contract Salmonella each year, and that an average of 20,000 hospitalizations and almost 400 deaths occur from Salmonella poisoning, according to a 2011 report. www.about-salmonella.com.
Shigella is the bacterium that causes the disease shigellosis, also known as bacillary dysentery. Shigella is one of the most easily transmitted bacterial diarrheas, since it can occur after fewer than 100 bacteria are ingested. While reported cases of Shigella range between 14,000 and 20,000 annually, with the majority of these cases occurring between July and October. Shigella Sonnei is the most common type of Shigella. It accounts for over two-thirds of cases of shigellosis in the United States. www.about-shigella.com.