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Food Poisoning Can Turn into Lasting Health Problem

Jan 28, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

Once you have recovered from the effects of food poisoning, do the negative health effects remain with you for months and years later?  Unfortunately, the answer is sometimes no.  According to emerging research, bouts of food poisoning can have long-term, lasting effects that can either linger for months or years.  In some cases, patients who thought they were fully recovered from an episode of food poisoning can experience related health problems years down the road.  

Various food poisoning studies found that some children who suffered severe cases of E. coli developed health problems later in life, such as kidney problems, high blood pressure, and kidney failure.  And there is no way of knowing who is safe and who is not --  the health problems could show up as late as 10 to 20 years later.  The research also found people who suffered salmonella or shigella can end up suffering from Reiter’s Syndrome, a type of  arthritis later in life and.  And for those who exhibited even mild campylobacter, Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a type of paralysis, can strike months later.

"Folks often assume once you're over the acute illness, that's it, you're back to normal, and that's the end of it," said Dr. Robert Tauxe of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The long-term consequences are "an important but relatively poorly documented, poorly studied area of food borne illness."  While late effects of food borne illness likely comprise a very small percentage of America’s 76 million annual food poisonings, the actual number of at-risk individuals remains unknown.  Also unknown is what other illnesses will be found to be scientifically linked to food poisoning.

This issue is no small concern give the inordinate amount of food recalls in recent months—including the over 30 million pounds of ground beef that were pulled off the market in 2007.  "We're drastically underestimating the burden on society that food borne illnesses represent," said Donna Rosenbaum of the consumer advocacy group STOP:  Safe Tables Our Priority.  Each week STOP receives information from those with health issues they feel may be linked to an earlier case of food poisoning.  

The food poisoning horror stories STOP has collected are disturbing. One woman, whose colon was removed when she was in her 20s, suffered from a severe case of E. coli when she was eight years old.  Others who fell ill with food poisoning that caused inflammation in the pancreas earlier are now suffering from diabetes.  Another young woman who fell ill fifteen years ago from a Jack-in-the-Box hamburgers now alleges that a wide variety of her health ailments are likely rooted in that nearly fatal experience.  She has had her thyroid removed as a result, and also  suffers from high blood pressure, recurring colon inflammation, a hiatal hernia, endometriosis, and the inability to eat fatty foods, fried foods, and some dairy products. Although food sensitivity might not necessarily be that unusual, her other medical conditions and procedures are extremely odd in someone so young.

In response to these related complaints, STOP has initiated the first national registry of food-poisoning survivors with long-term health problems.


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