Digestive Diseases: Food Poisoning (cont.)

Unpasteurized milk or foods made from unpasteurized milk may also be sources of listeria infection. Listeria is killed by pasteurization, and heating procedures used to prepare ready-to-eat processed meats should be sufficient to kill the bacterium. However, unless good manufacturing practices are followed, contamination can occur even after processing.

According to the CDC, an estimated 2,500 people in the U.S. become seriously ill from a listeria infection each year, and of these 500 will die. The CDC reports that those at increased risk for developing listeriosis include:

Symptoms can include:

  • Fever
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea

If infection spreads to the nervous system (brain and spinal cord), the following symptoms can occur:

Infected pregnant women may experience only a mild, flu-like illness; however, infection during pregnancy can lead to premature delivery, infection of the newborn or even stillbirth. There is no routine screening test to find out if you are likely to contract listeria infection during pregnancy. If you have symptoms of listeriosis, consult your doctor immediately.

How Is Listeria Infection Diagnosed and Treated?

Listeria infection is often diagnosed by medical history and confirmed by blood or spinal fluid tests.

Antibiotic treatment will usually cure the infection, and when given promptly to an infected pregnant woman, may prevent infection of her fetus.

Even with prompt treatment, some infections result in death. In the elderly and people with other serious medical problems, these infections are more likely to be fatal.

What Is Botulism?

The bacterium Clostridium botulinum is responsible for causing the rare but serious illness botulism.

According to the CDC, the three main types of botulism are foodborne, wound, and infant botulism. Foodborne botulism is caused by eating foods that contain the botulism toxin. Wound botulism, which is very rare, is caused by a toxin produced from a wound infected with C. botulinum. Infant botulism is caused by consuming the spores of botulinum bacteria, which grow in a child's intestines.

All forms of botulism can be deadly and are considered medical emergencies.

Symptoms include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Double vision
  • Droopy eyelids
  • Slowed or slurred speech
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Dry mouth
  • Muscle weakness

In infants with botulism the symptoms include:

If these symptoms are untreated, they may lead to paralysis of the arms, legs, trunk, and respiratory muscles. Symptoms of foodborne botulism usually develop 18 to 36 hours after consuming contaminated food, but symptoms can occur as early as six hours or as late as a week to 10 days.

How Is Botulism Diagnosed and Treated?

Diagnosis is made by the presence of appropriate symptoms of nerve weakness and by laboratory tests that detect the toxin or by culture of C. botulinum from the person's stool.

The respiratory failure (inability to breathe) and paralysis that occur with severe botulism may require intensive medical and nursing care in a hospital.

If diagnosed in its early stages, foodborne botulism can be treated with an antitoxin medication.

Your doctor may also try to remove any contaminated food left in the digestive system by inducing vomiting or by using enemas.

Infants infected with the bacteria require hospitalization and possibly care in an intensive care unit. The botulism antitoxin is not recommended for infants.

How Can Botulism Be Prevented?

Although there are very few cases of botulism poisoning each year, prevention is extremely important. According to the CDC, foodborne botulism has often been linked to home-canned foods with a low acid content. These foods include asparagus, green beans, beets, and corn. People have also become infected from other sources including chopped garlic in oil, chili peppers, tomatoes, improperly handled baked potatoes cooked in aluminum foil, and home-canned or fermented fish (such as sardines).

Persons who can their own food should follow strict canning procedures to reduce contamination of foods.

Honey should not be given to children younger than 12 months of age, as it can contain spores of C. botulinum and is known to cause infant botulism.

Reviewed by The Cleveland Clinic Department of Gastroenterology
SOURCE: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Reviewed by Venkat Mohan, MD on September 13, 2008

WebMD Medical Reference

Last Editorial Review: 11/18/2010

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