Food poisoning, also called foodborne illness, occurs when water or food contaminated with harmful germs, poisons or chemicals is drunk or eaten. Contamination can also occur at home if food is inaccurately cooked or handled.
Usually, it causes diarrhea, with or without being sick. However, it can also cause other problems. Mostly, symptoms clear away after some days but sometimes it takes longer. Lack of fluid in the body is the main risk which can develop more rapidly and be more severe in children. The main treatment is to give your child lots to drink to avoid dehydration.
Children face higher risks of food poisoning. This is because less-developed immune system of babies have a limited ability to fight infections when exposed to pathogens. They have limited control over their diet and related food safety risks. Furthermore, their lower body weight decreases the amount of a pathogen required to cause infection.
Dehydration is more likely to occur in;
- Babies under the age of 1 year and mostly those under 6 months. That is because babies don’t need to lose much fluid to lose a significant proportion of total body fluid.
- Babies under 1 year who were a low birth weight. And those children who have not caught up with their weight.
- A breastfed baby who has stopped feeding during their ailment.
- Any child or baby who does not drink much during gut infection (gastroenteritis).
- A baby or child with severe vomiting and diarrhea. For example, if they have passed five or more diarrheal stools or vomited two or more times in the previous 24 hours.
Causes of food poisoning
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) mentions that, despite high standards in the U.S. food supply, annually around 48 million cases of foodborne illnesses occur due to contaminated food.
The FDA estimates that about 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths result from food poisoning. Therefore, an organization has made a list of the microorganisms liable for these ailments along with a report of the symptoms they typically produce. Majorly, there are 3 types of infectious agents which cause gastroenteritis;
The viruses which are commonly involved in gastroenteritis are;
- Rotavirus; this virus is more common in children and the most common cause of viral gastroenteritis in children
- Norovirus; more common in adults
- Less common viral causes are astrovirus, generally affecting children and the elderly, and adenoviruses. Cytomegalovirus can cause gastroenteritis, specifically in individuals with compromised immunity.
The bacteria most commonly involved in gastroenteritis are;
- Escherichia coli
- Clostridium difficile
According to research from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Interagency Food Safety Analytics Collaboration from 2008 to 2012, 46% of E. coli cases came from beef. Moreover, 18% of salmonella cases from seeded vegetables, and 66% of campylobacter cases from dairy products.
Symptoms of lack of fluid in the body
Vomiting and diarrhea may cause dehydration. Children, specifically young children, babies, and infants, can become very ill very quickly and severely dehydrated. However, mild dehydration is common and is generally easily reversed by drinking lots of fluids.
Usual symptoms of mild dehydration in children include;
- Passing little urine.
- A dry mouth, tongue, and lips.
- Fewer tears when crying.
- Sunken eyes.
- Being irritable.
- Having a lack of energy.
Symptoms of severe dehydration in children include;
- Pale or spotted skin.
- Cold hands or feet.
- Very few wet nappies.
- Fast but often shallow breathing.
Severe dehydration is a case of a medical emergency which require immediate medical attention.
How food poisoning is diagnosed?
Most people will recognize food poisoning from their general symptoms. If symptoms are mild, you don’t need to seek medical advice. But you need to make sure they have lots to drink.
However, it is vital to seek immediate medical advice if your child is ailing, particularly if they are becoming dehydrated. Your clinician may ask for a stool sample to be collected and sent to a laboratory for testing. This can be examined to look for the cause of the infection. Furthermore, a stool sample is not always required. Your clinician is likely to recommend one in certain states, such as;
- If your kid has just been abroad.
- If a child is very ill.
- In case your child has pus or blood in stools.
- If your child’s diarrhea is not settling after a week.
- If your child has just been in hospital.
- In case your kid had an antibiotic treatment or any other medical condition, mainly one which distresses their immune system.
- If the clinician is uncertain that a child has food poisoning or a gut infection (gastroenteritis).
The stool sample is not always needed because in many cases knowing about germ does not make any difference to the treatment. In most cases, food poisoning gets better on their own even before the stool test result.
When should I seek medical guidance?
Most children having a gut infection (gastroenteritis) because of food poisoning have mild symptoms. These symptoms will get better in a few days. However, the central thing is to make sure that they have plenty to drink. Mostly, there is no need for any medical advice.
However, medical advice is needed in the following conditions;
- If your child is under 6 months.
- If a child has any underlying medical state (like heart or kidney problems, diabetes or history of premature birth).
- Your child has a fever or if you suspect a lack of fluid is developing in the body.
- If a child appears sleepy or disordered.
- If a child is being sick (vomiting).
- There may be a blood in diarrhea or if your child has severe abdominal pain.
- If there are any other symptoms that you are concerned about.
Fluids to treat dehydration
If your child is dehydrated mildly, this may be treated by giving rehydration drinks. The amount of drinks depends on the age and the weight of a child. If a child is breastfeeding, continue with this during this time. It is very important that your kid is properly rehydrated before they have any solid food.
Sometimes a child may need to be admitted to the hospital for proper treatment if they are dehydrated. Treatment in a hospital typically involves giving a rehydration solution through a tube called a nasogastric tube. This tube passes through the child’s nose, down their throat and directly into the stomach.
An alternative treatment is also available in which fluids are given directly into a vein (intravenous fluids).