Health article

People at Risk of Foodborne Illness


The food supply in the United States is among the safest in the world. However, when certain disease-causing bacteria or pathogens contaminate food, they can cause foodborne illness, often called “food poisoning.” The Federal government estimates that there are about 48 million cases of foodborne illness annually — the equivalent of sickening 1 in 6 Americans each year. And each year, these illnesses result in an estimated 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. Although everyone is susceptible, some people are at greater risk for developing foodborne illness.

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Who’s At-Risk?

If you – or someone you care for – are in one of these high-risk groups, it’s especially important to practice safe food handling. Vulnerable people are not only at increased risk of contracting a foodborne illness but are also more likely to have a lengthier illness, undergo hospitalization, or even die.

Changes during pregnancy alter the mother’s immune system, making pregnant women more susceptible to foodborne illness. Harmful bacteria can also cross the placenta and infect an unborn baby whose immune system is under-developed and not able to fight infection. Foodborne illness during pregnancy is serious and can lead to miscarriage, premature delivery, stillbirth, sickness or the death of a newborn baby.

Unborn babies are just beginning to develop immune systems and have little power to resist foodborne disease.

Children younger than 5 years have a high risk of foodborne illness and related health problems because their immune systems are still developing, and they cannot fight off infections as well as older children and adults.

The immune system is the body’s natural reaction or response to “foreign invasion.” In healthy people, a properly functioning immune system fights off harmful bacteria and other pathogens that cause infection. As people age, their immune system and other organs become sluggish in recognizing and ridding the body of harmful bacteria and other pathogens that cause infections, such as foodborne illness. Also, the immune systems of transplant patients and people with certain illnesses, such as HIV/AIDS, cancer, diabetes, and autoimmune diseases are often weakened from the disease process and/or the side effects of some treatments, making them susceptible to many types of infections — like those that can be brought on by harmful bacteria that cause foodborne illness. In addition, diabetes may lead to a slowing of the rate at which food passes through the stomach and intestines, allowing harmful foodborne pathogens an opportunity to multiply.

Foods to Avoid

If you are at greater risk of foodborne illness, you are advised not to eat:

Foodborne Illness: Know the Symptoms

Symptoms of foodborne illness usually appear 12 to 72 hours after eating contaminated food but may occur between 30 minutes and 4 weeks later. Symptoms include:

If you suspect that you could have a foodborne illness, contact your physician or health care provider right away!



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