Mary-Jo Lomax of La Voz reports that an estimated 76 million cases of foodborne illnesses occur each year in the United States. While the majority of these cases are mild and cause symptoms for only a day or two, some cases are more serious. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that there are 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths related to foodborne diseases annually.
The most serious cases usually occur in the very young, the very old or those with weakened immune systems.
Foodborne illnesses are caused by a variety of bacteria, viruses, parasites, and even toxins. Symptoms can appear from a few hours to a week or more.
The most common symptoms involve gastrointestinal distress including vomiting, abdominal cramping and diarrhea.
Foods that are most commonly associated with foodborne illnesses are raw or undercooked animal products including eggs, unpasteurized milk and shellfish. According to the CDC, the most common microbes that cause foodborne infections are Campylobacter, Salmonella, E. coli 0157:H7, all bacteria and a group of viruses called Noroviruses.
Campylobacter is transmitted through raw or undercooked meet, poultry or shellfish, raw milk and contaminated water. Symptoms appear in about two to five days and include fever, headache and muscle pain followed by diarrhea, abdominal pain and nausea. Symptoms can last up to seven to 10 days.
There are over 2,300 types of Salmonella; Salmonella enteritidis is found in raw eggshells. It is transmitted through raw or under-cooked eggs, poultry, fish and seafood. Food-handlers can also spread the disease. Symptoms begin from 8 to 72 hours after eating the contaminated food and last one to two days.
Symptoms include stomach pain, fever, chills, nausea, diarrhea and headache. Escherichia coli 0157:H7 (E. coli) is another bacteria found in the intestinal tracts of animals, in raw milk and in unchlorinated water. According to the CDC, the most common way for E. coli to be transmitted is through food or water that has been contaminated by microscopic amounts of cow feces. In addition, E. coli can also be transmitted through unpasteurized apple juice, uncooked fruits and veggies, and from person to person. Severe abdominal cramps and diarrhea (often bloody) begin two to five days, and can last up to eight days. A particularly serious case of E. coli infection can lead to kidney failure.
Noroviruses cause gastroenteritis or the stomach flu. Noroviruses are a group of viruses that had been called caliciviruses or Norwalk-like viruses. Transmission of a norovirus is almost always spread from person to person, rather than from eating raw or undercooked meat, poultry, fish or eggs. Symptoms, including vomiting and diarrhea, occur quickly and are usually over within two days.
Mary-Jo Lomax is a health educator at De Anza College. For more information, visit the Health Center in the Hinson Campus Center.