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Food Poisoning: Causes, Treatment and Prevention

Updated on August 14, 2013

It started quite suddenly. On a Saturday evening I suddenly had to use the facilities, if you know what I mean, twice in rapid succession. I had felt fine just minutes before. Over the next few hours I got to know the inside of my bathroom quite well—thank God for The Economist. I had contracted food poisoning. I wouldn't wish what followed on my worst enemy. (I actually would wish it on my worst enemy, but that's another story.)

If you want my advice, don't come down with food poisoning on a weekend. Save it for a Monday or Tuesday. If you work Monday to Friday, you've just blown off two days without being able to call in sick. At any rate, you'll probably be able to stay home the following Monday and Tuesday while you recover, and if you are unable to stretch this into a few sick days, then you should be ashamed of yourself, and you certainly aren't cut out for government work.

A one-day supply
A one-day supply | Source

A Long Day at the Minute Clinic

The more serious problem is finding medical care on a weekend. You'll sooner find a Jehovah's Witness at a poker tournament than a doctor who works on Sunday. My options consisted of the emergency room, a weekend clinic and something called the Minute Clinic, a facility with some sort of practitioner (translation: not a doctor) at a chain pharmacy. Not wanting to ring up a big bill at the ER, I decided on the Minute Clinic. Wrong choice. If it happens to you, just spend the money and go to the ER.

Cute name, Minute Clinic. Perhaps some planet in a distant galaxy has a minute this long. A more accurate name would be something along the lines of All Morning and into the Afternoon Clinic. This facility consisted of a closet-sized room (to be fair, a walk-in closet) with a waiting area consisting primarily of an aisle in the pharmacy. My wife and I checked in, and we sat on the floor, right in the aisle, and waited, me laying with my head in her lap, wondering if this store sold any products with which to take one's life. Other suffering souls and their loved ones littered the aisle, making it resemble what a Soviet health clinic might have looked like, except for the cheerful pharmacy surroundings, of course.

Don't do it.
Don't do it. | Source

After a time, the person running this little show announced that her computer keyboard wasn't working. She advised us to return in a couple of hours while she procured a keyboard from another store. We came back in the afternoon. Eventually I was ushered into the clinic and told that they weren't prepared to treat my condition, which had some big name. I'm pretty sure that big name meant “food poisoning” in medical language. Okay, thanks a lot. And how much will this cost?

The practitioner at the Minute Clinic had advised me to eat only bland foods such as saltines and noodle soup. I took that advice, and spent the rest of the day in the bathroom. The night before I had suspected I had food poisoning, and decided not to eat. I had given myself better advice than I was to get from the Minute Clinic.

I again stopped eating, of course, and saw my doctor on Monday. He fixed me up with some medicine and instructed me to take in nothing except Gatorade and ginger ale. I endured a couple of dreadful days consisting almost entirely of fitful sleep, punctuated by occasional slugs of liquid. I lost four pounds. I had been trying to lose weight, but I don't recommend this method.

The little hotdogs are salmonella.
The little hotdogs are salmonella. | Source

Causes and Symptoms of Food Poisoning

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate there are 48 million cases of food poisoning each year, resulting in 128,000 hospitalizations and up to 3,000 deaths. I didn't die, but I did consider it as a viable alternative to my hellish existence.

Food poisoning typically comes on suddenly, within 48 hours of consuming contaminated food. According to The New York Times , symptoms of the most common types of food poisoning appear within two to six hours of consumption. You may experience nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramping and diarrhea, according to eMedicineHealth. I was fortunate to experience only the last condition.

The University of Maryland Medical Center cites several causes of food poisoning. Clostridium botulinum (botulism) causes weakness, several symptoms involving the eyes, and difficulty speaking and swallowing. It can lead to death. Salmonella, Shigella and Campylobacter jejuni result in fever, chills and bloody diarrhea. E. Coli causes diarrhea with very little stool and large amounts of blood. There are also various types of fish poisoning, along with mushroom poisoning.

Treatment for Food Poisoning

You will usually recover on your own in a few days. Treatment consists mainly of making you feel better and ensuring that your body has adequate fluids.

Don't eat solid foods until your diarrhea has passed. (Tell that to the Minute Clinic.) Avoid dairy products, which can worsen diarrhea due to temporary lactose intolerance. Drink any fluids except milk and caffeinated beverages. Buy an electrolyte solution at the drugstore if your child suffers from food poisoning. Some drugstore medications can help with diarrhea; see your doctor if you have a fever or are passing blood. It's always a good idea to see a doctor in any case, and you should definitely seek help if you pass blood or pus, have a black stool, experience stomach pain or diarrhea with a fever over 101 degrees, or have recently visited a foreign country.

Preventing Food Poisoning

The New York Times lists a number of possible causes of food poisoning. Meat can contact intestinal bacteria when processed. Water used in growing or shipping food may contain animal or human waste. Unclean equipment—or unclean people—may contact food during preparation. Dairy products, frozen or refrigerated foods, or those containing mayonnaise may be stored at improper temperatures. You can become ill from raw seafood, fruits and vegetables that haven't been cleaned well, and raw vegetable or fruit juices. Ditto for undercooked meat or eggs, and water from some sources.

FDA Publishes Bad Bug Book Second Edition

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition published the second edition of the Bad Bug Book in April 2012. The book provides current information on the major causes of foodborne illness that is general in nature and intended for practical use. Each chapter includes a “consumer box” that explains in simple language what can make you sick and how to prevent it.

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    • giocatore profile image

      giocatore 6 years ago

      Thanks for your comments. I agree about the Minute Clinic. I don't like to ring up big bills at the ER, but next time that's where I'm going! Cheers.

    • thesingernurse profile image

      thesingernurse 6 years ago from Rizal, Philippines

      Very useful. Usually, diarrhea resumes because of the attempt of the body to excrete the offending agent. Lots of water and electrolyte solutions are best taken at this time. You can still proceed with your regular diet and eating though I have to agree that you have to stay away from dairy food in the meantime. Don't ingest anything fatty as well. And it would help to avoid fiber-rich diet at this time since you already have the diarrhea. In case someone feels weak due to passing of so many liquid stools, then he has to go to the nearest medical facility (much better than the minute clinic though. Lol.) so they can treat you with antibacterials and constant fluid replacement.

      But don't believe too much in what I say. It's still important to consult a physician. Hahaha!

      Nice and informative hub Sir! :D Keep it up!