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Waterborne Diseases

How to Stay Safe from Food and Waterborne Diseases

Food and water-borne diseases often referred to as food poisoning is caused by eating or drinking food that is contaminated by microbes like bacteria, viruses, protozoa, fungi, algae, etc. According to a recently compiled report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 out of 6 individuals becomes the victim of food and water-borne diseases by consuming contaminated food or beverages, and unfortunately, around one million of the affected are hospitalized.

Risk Factors for Food and Water-Borne Diseases

Food and water-borne diseases can affect everyone, but the following individuals are more prone to falling sick:

  • Children under the age of five or people over the age of 65
  • Pregnant women
  • Individuals with a weak immune system, for example, patients with HIV, or AIDS, individuals who have undergone an organ transplant
  • Individuals suffering from chronic diseases such as lung disease, liver disease, cardiovascular diseases, arthritis, pancreatitis, diabetes, etc.

Food Contamination

Strict care and good hygiene are mandatory for food storage. Food can become contaminated at any point during its handling, processing, and storage.  Examples of contamination include:

  • Plants may become contaminated by the soil, fertilizers, animal waste, or water.
  • The use of contaminated water to wash fruits, vegetables or meat may contaminate them.
  • Within the animal body, bacteria is present that is beneficial to those animals but harmful to humans. Examples include Salmonella which is commonly found in poultry.
  • Foods such as raw alfalfa sprouts, oysters and crab, etc. may become contaminated during the process of maturing or if ingested in the raw form.
  • Carelessness while handling raw meat is a major cause of food contamination. The utensils used for defrosting meat should be properly cleaned afterward.
  • Undercooked meat contains bacteria and microbes that may cause contamination.
  • Unpasteurized milk and other dairy products are also a source of foodborne diseases. Some bacterial species like Listeria can even grow on refrigerated milk.
  • Botulism (paralyzing muscle disease) is caused by the toxins produced by bacteria like Clostridium botulinum and Staphylococcus aureus that are present in food and dairy products.
  • Pesticides and heavy metals present in insect repellant sprays can also contaminate food, for example, poisonous mushrooms.

Signs and Symptoms of Food and Water-Borne Diseases

Bacteria and viruses are more likely to cause acute illnesses while parasites may cause chronic diseases. The incubation period for each microorganism is different. Common signs and symptoms of food poisoning are listed below:

In severe cases, the microbial toxins may progress to cause

  • Joint pain (reactive arthritis)
  • Hemolytic uremic syndrome (acute renal failure)
  • Sepsis

Diagnostic Tests for Food and Water-Borne Illnesses

A primary care physician can assess the severity of the disease and make an accurate diagnosis by closely evaluating the root cause.

Many food and water-borne diseases are self-limiting, and treatment is not usually required. Only preventive care can help the patient to recover. Laboratory tests may only be performed if the symptoms persist for several days and are gradually becoming more serious.

The initial diagnostic tests include;

  • Blood test
  • Urine test
  • Stool culture
  • Ova and parasite test (O & P)
  • Stool antigen test to detect giardia, cryptosporidium, or E. coli
  • Special staining tests to identify the type of parasite
  • Rotavirus antigen test
  • Individual molecular test
  • Reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR)
  • Hepatitis A and antibody tests occasionally ordered

Primary care doctors report suspected cases of food-borne illnesses to the official public health agencies, and necessary investigations are made to identify the source of the illness.

How to Prevent Food and Water-Borne Diseases?

Prevention is always better than cure.

At an individual level, self-care and adopting good hygiene practices can prevent many fatal diseases. Some of the preventive measures are listed below;

  • Take extreme care while handling raw meat, poultry, and seafood. Keep all the food items covered while defrosting the meat.
  • Wash your hands properly with soap and water before and after handling food or petting animals. This alone can save you from 90% of diseases.
  • Cook your meat at the recommended temperature to kill the pathogens.
  • Store your meat at safer temperatures.
  • Do not use untreated or tap water for drinking. Always consume bottled, filtered, chlorinated, or boiled water. 
  • Do not consume unpasteurized milk or juices.
  • Wash or sanitize your hands after using the washroom.

What measures can be adopted at the public health and government level?

  • Maintain clean agricultural, recreational, and drinking water supplies.
  • Strictly monitor food production units and ensure good health and hygiene practices.
  • Take the necessary measures to manage an outbreak of foodborne illnesses.

Treatment of Food and Water-Borne Diseases

  • In most cases, bacterial and viral infections are self-limiting and do not require any treatment. Primary care physicians recommend supportive care, bed rest, and fluid replacement therapy.
  • In cases of extreme dehydration, intravenous fluids and hospitalization are recommended.
  • Anti-bacterial and antiviral drugs are prescribed.
  • Painkillers are administered to treat abdominal and muscular pain.
  • Treatment with Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS) is prescribed.

Primary Care Medicine and Vaccination

Vaccines are available against typhoid, cholera, hepatitis, and rotavirus infection. Patients looking for primary care medicine or vaccinations should not neglect the importance of visiting a nearby medical facility as soon as possible and avoid remedial experiments. You can visit Manhattan Medical Arts in Chelsea, Manhattan, or any other family care doctor near you to get these immunity shots.

– Disclaimer –

This blog is for informational & educational purposes only, and does not intend to substitute any professional medical advice or consultation. For any health related concerns, please consult with your physician, or call 911.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by Dr. Syra Hanif, M.D. on 07/17/2019

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  • About The Author

    Dr. Syra Hanif M.D.

    Board Certified Primary Care Physician

Dr. Syra Hanif is a board-certified Primary Care Physician (PCP) dedicated to providing compassionate, patient-centered healthcare.

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