Food poisoning or acute gastroenteritis is a food-borne illness caused by consumption of contaminated food. While the symptoms vary depending on type of microorganisms causing the illness, most cases would involve nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal cramps and occasionally fever. Adults who are otherwise healthy will experience mild, self-limiting symptoms (recovers in a few hours to days).
In fact, antibiotic treatment is not warranted in most cases as long as the person receives adequate rehydration and electrolyte supplementation. This is commonly achievable using oral rehydration salts (ORS) which are available over-the-counter as powders in a sachet to be dissolved with water before consuming. In the absence of commercially available products, it may be substituted with a solution of 1/2 level teaspoon of salt AND 6 level teaspoons of sugar added to 1000mL of drinking water. [2,3] This preparation however should be made up as accurately as possible and used only when commercial products are not found, as excessive salt can be harmful to young children while excessive sugar can make the diarrhoea worse.
However, food poisoning can be particularly dangerous in newborns, infants, young children, the elderly and patients with co-morbidities such as diabetes, kidney disease or impaired immunity as they are more vulnerable to dehydration and would require more attention.
It is important that one should seek immediate medical attention when experiencing any of the following symptoms [1,4]:
- Diarrhoea for more than 3 days
- Unable to ingest and retain fluids due to frequent vomiting
- Bloody vomit or stools
- High fever above 38°C (measured orally)
- Showing signs of dehydration (little or no urination, very dry mouth, rapid heart rate, dizziness, confusion, weakness)
Meanwhile, if you have food poisoning, don’t forget to practice good personal hygiene and wash your hands with soap or sanitizer frequently, especially after using the toilet and before handling food or utensils to prevent spreading it to others around you. The last thing you want is creating a queue for the restroom!
- Food Poisoning Symptoms, https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/symptoms.html
- Food Poisoning Treatment & Management, https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/175569-treatment
- WHO position paper on Oral Rehydration Salts to reduce mortality from cholera, http://www.who.int/cholera/technical/en/
- Food Poisoning, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/food-poisoning/symptoms-causes/syc-20356230