A Bout of Food Poisoning Can Affect Health Years LaterJan 21, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
E. coli, Salmonella and other food borne illnesses can have long term consequences for many victims. According to the Associated Press (AP), there are a number of debilitating diseases and conditions that can strike food poisoning patients weeks, months and even years after they appear to have recovered. The news is especially ominous given the fact that food poisoning outbreaks have become more common, as US food processors seem unable to keep pathogens like E. coli and Salmonella away from the food supply.
According to the AP, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says food poisoning causes 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths a year. Among survivors, some long-term consequences are obvious from the outset. For example, E. coli victims sometimes require kidney transplants. They may also have scarred intestines that cause lasting digestive difficulty. But patients who supposedly recovered can also experience long-term health problems later on. In the case of E. coli, about 10 percent of E. coli sufferers develop a life-threatening complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome, or HUS, where their kidneys and other organs fail. The AP quotes one doctor who said that ten to 20 years after they recover, between 30 percent and half of HUS survivors will have some kidney-caused problem.
A variety of other organ problems might be triggered by HUS because it causes blood clots all over the body. HUS sufferers also can develop pancreatitis, and some researchers are trying to find out if that leaves victims at a higher risk of developing diabetes later on.
Salmonella also has potential long-term health consequences. Some victims of Salmonella will develop a disease called Reiter’s Syndrome, a difficult- to- treat form of reactive arthritis that causes severe joint pain, irritation of the eyes, and painful urination. Reiter’s Syndrome can plague its victims for months or years, and can lead to chronic arthritis. Certain strains of shigella and yersinia bacteria, far more common abroad than in the U.S., can also trigger Reiter’s Syndrome.
The AP article also reported that about 1 in 1,000 sufferers of campylobacter, a diarrhea-causing infection spread by raw poultry, develop far more serious Guillain-Barre syndrome a month or so later. Their body attacks their nerves, causing paralysis that usually requires intensive care and a ventilator to breathe. According to the AP, about a third of the nation's Guillain-Barre cases have been linked to previous campylobacter, even if the diarrhea was very mild, and they typically suffer a more severe case than patients who never had food poisoning.
With food recalls on the rise — including more than 30 million pounds of E. coli tainted ground beef pulled off the market last year alone — researchers are frantically trying to determine what other ailments might be triggered by E. coli, Salmonella and other food borne illnesses. Recently, the consumer advocacy group STOP, Safe Tables Our Priority, began the first national registry of food-poisoning survivors with long-term health problem. STOP is hoping that people who have suffered from food poisoning will be willing to share their medical histories with scientists in hopes of boosting much-needed research.