Mrudu Naik and Adarsh Madhavan report that food poisoning cases are on a high. A three-month (April to June, 2005) Ministry of Health statistics reveal that a total of 127 cases were reported, a top Ministry of Health official told the Times of Oman in a recent interview.
Indeed, a cursory look at last year’s statistics will reveal that more than 500 cases were reported. Last year (excluding January, February and March 2004), a total of 545 cases were reported. The second quarter of last year saw 178 food poisoning cases, which was 51 more than the ones reported for this year in the same period.
“For every food poisoning case that is reported, 10 goes unreported,” Dr Hassan Al Tuhami, head of the surveillance and communicable disease, Ministry of Health, told the Times of Oman/Thursday in a recent interview.
According to him, only severe cases are reported. “Many others with mild forms of food poisoning are known to quietly suffer from home,” he said.
There were seven cases reported in Muscat: 10 in Dhofar, 39 in Dakhiliyah, 10 in North Sharqiyah, four in South Sharqiyah, 39 in South Batinah, seven in Dhahirah and 11 in Al Wusta.
Dr Tuhami noted that food poisoning of infectious origin is one of the commonest infectious diseases in Oman. Relevant statistics from 1991 to 2003 shows a steadily increasing graph, peaking in 2001 to above 1000 and then just below 1000 in 2003. In short, the food poisoning trend is on the rise, he notes.
Dr Tuhami notes that the root causes include rapid change in lifestyle, food habits etc.
The condition is characterised by a history of recent ingestion of common shared food. Many persons are affected at the same time and there is similarity of signs and symptoms in the majority of affected persons.
Outbreaks are particularly common during the hot months (May to September) when the environmental ambient temperature is in the vicinity of 37 degrees Celsius. In such situations, inappropriately stored food material (raw or cooked) may provide an excellent substrate for bacteria to multiply and flourish, Dr Tuhami said.
Patients don’t often furnish complete information about food, which is eaten from outside. And quite often, it is an overall mix of restaurant and/or hotel food. Carelessness, unhealthy consumption of non-vegetarian food are some of the main reasons for food poisoning.
Food poisoning is a syndrome of acute gastroenteritis caused by the ingestion of food or drink contaminated with either bacteria or their toxins or poisons derived from plants or animals.
Some of the immediate symptoms of food poisoning are nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal cramps and dysentery in severe cases, Dr Shalini notes.
The commonest epidemiological pattern of this disease is a sharp and explosive outbreak, mostly in close communities, catering organisations, e.g., students’ hostel, armed forces mess, worker camps, hotels and restaurants, Dr Tuhami adds.
Such outbreaks can also occur in a household situation if storage is improper. Festive occasions when large gatherings of people are offered a communal meal, eg., wedding, birthday parties, etc., might also present an opportunity for an outbreak of food poisoning, he said.
According to Dr Tuhami, all food poisoning cases — minor or major — should be reported within 24 hours to the regional health authorities (epidemiologist or the focal point for communicable diseases). As for major cases of food poisoning, epidemiological investigation must be conducted.
A preliminary report should be prepared and submitted within 24 hours to national surveillance unit. “The final report should then be submitted after the reports of laboratory investigations are received and community actions for control are undertaken,” Dr Tuhami said.
However, for minor cases of food poisoning, detailed investigations are not mandatory. The actions are limited to visiting the households and we are offering health education to the family in food hygiene to prevent such occurrences in future, he said.