As if a nasty bout of food poisoning with a day spent in agony isn't bad enough, now comes news that food-borne illness could cause long-term health effects.
According to the Associated Press, scientists are looking at conditions such as high blood pressure and kidney problems in people who had a serious E. coli infection as a child 10 to 20 years earlier; arthritis in those who had salmonella poisoning; and a mysterious paralysis in those who had campylobacter.
While the CDC says that this is an important but understudied area, Donna Rosenbaum of Safe Tables Our Priority (SAFE), a nonprofit organization devoted to food safety awareness, is quoted as saying, "We're drastically underestimating the burden on society that food-borne illnesses represent."
Food-borne illnesses cause 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths a year, according to the CDC.
This month, SAFE will initiate a registry on its Website for people with health issues that they believe are the result of food poisoning years earlier. Remember the infamous case of E. coli in 5-year old Alyssa Chrobuck that came from a Seattle Jack-in-the-Box hamburger in 1993? She is now a 20-year-old college student who has experienced high blood pressure, recurring hospitalizations for colon inflammation, a hiatal hernia, thyroid removal and endometriosis.
Dr. Andrew Pavia, the University of Utah's pediatric infectious diseases chief, says he does not want people to assume that everyone who has had a food-borne illness will suffer these consequences later. In research on children with E. coli, the university found that only about 10 percent of E. coli sufferers develop hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a life-threatening kidney problem. Ten to 20 years later, between 30 percent and half of those HUS survivors will experience other kidney complications.
Pavia says they don't have the evidence yet showing that people with "uncomplicated diarrhea" have similar health outcomes in later years.
In the meantime, prevent food-borne illness in the first place with good health practices. The CDC reminds us to cook meat, poultry and eggs thoroughly. Don't cross-contaminate one food with another. Refrigerate leftovers promptly, and clean produce properly. You can find more information on food-borne illness on the CDC Website.
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