What to do if you have food poisoning
Every year, 4.1 million Australians experience food poisoning, resulting in one million doctor visits, 31,920 hospitalisations and 86 deaths, according to the Food Safety Information Council (FSIC).
THORZT takes a look at what food poisoning is, who is at risk, why the body responds the way it does, and the keys to recovery.
What is food poisoning?
If you’ve ever been sick as a result of something you ate, it’s likely you’ve experienced food poisoning.
Food poisoning can be caused by eating food contaminated with bacteria, viruses, parasites, harmful chemicals or toxins.
Symptoms can range from mild to severe depending on the contaminant you’ve swallowed, however, common symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea and fever.
Pregnant women, the elderly, infants and young children and others with poor immune systems have a higher risk of contracting food poisoning.
Vomiting, diarrhoea and fever: what’s the point?
According to a 2007 study, the unpleasant nature of nausea helps us to avoid consuming foods or other substances that make us sick.
Nausea is often accompanied by vomiting, which, alongside diarrhoea helps to clear the digestive tract of any ingested pathogens or toxins.
Fever also plays an important role in the body’s immune response. According to a 2015 study, there is mounting evidence that a core body temperature increase of one to four degrees Celsius can help resolve infections.
One way it does this is by making the body a less suitable host for temperature-sensitive viruses and bacteria, either causing a reduction in their replication rate or increasing their susceptibility to other elements of the immune system.
It also helps to stimulate the immune system so that it takes appropriate action against the bacteria or virus.
Food poisoning treatment and when to go to hospital:
With dehydration through vomiting, diarrhoea or sweating due to fever being one of the biggest risks of food poisoning, it’s critical that you keep your fluids up. Make sure you drink plenty of water, juice or electrolyte drinks and avoid soft drinks, milk, coffee or tea.
It’s also important to avoid anti-vomiting or anti-diarrhoea drugs, unless prescribed by your doctor, as these will keep the infection or other contaminants inside your body.
You will need to see a doctor if you have nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea that continues for more than a couple of days, high fever, are showing signs of dehydration or bloody or black stools, or you’re unable to keep any fluids down without vomiting.
It is recommended you immediately visit a doctor if you have signs of food poisoning after consuming seafood, shellfish or mushrooms.
What to eat after food poisoning:
While it’s important that you continue to take in fluids, it’s best to hold off on solid foods until any fever has passed.
When you do start eating again, being careful with your diet can help you recover more quickly. Start with simple foods such as rice, plain toast, yogurt, bread, clear soup, eggs and bananas, while avoiding spicy, fried or greasy foods for several days.