Food-borne Illness May Have Long Term Effects


Food-borne illness affect nearly 76 million people in the United States every year according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Of those, nearly 325,000 are hospitalized and nearly 5,000 die. Children under the age of 15 make up almost 50% of all those affected by food-borne illnesses.

The Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention released a report on November 12 which reveals that the effects of food-borne illness may be long term, especially in children.

The severity of acute food-borne disease can vary greatly, depending on the pathogen and the vulnerability of the person infected. Diarrhea and vomiting are common symptoms of food-borne illnesses which last only a few days in most cases.

In a few cases, food-borne pathogens can cause serious acute complications which include kidney failure; paralysis; seizures; hearing/visual impairments and mental retardation. Anyone affected by these serious complications often are affected long-term as these complications don’t always resolve.

The researchers looked at the five most common food-borne pathogens for the study—Campylobacter, E. Coli, Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella and Toxoplasma gondii.

Campylobacter has been associated with Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) which is the most common cause of neuromuscular paralysis in the United States. GBS patients can become permanently disabled and paralyzed. Many require hospital care,
and about a third of them require care at rehabilitation
facilities, long-term care hospitals, and/or nursing


E. coli O157:H7 infection can in susceptible individuals develop into hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) which is a leading cause of acute kidney failure in children in the United States. Those who survive HUS can often have long-term or permanent health problems including end-stage kidney disease, neurological
complications, and insulin-dependent diabetes.

Listeria monocytogenes infections have been associated with infections of the brain and spinal cord, resulting in serious neurological dysfunctions or death. Survivors of these serious infections are often left with serious neurological dysfunctions, including seizures, paralysis, and impaired ability to see, hear, swallow, or speak.

Salmonella, as well as other foodborne bacteria, can trigger reactive arthritis (ReA) in susceptible individuals. The painful and swollen joints can greatly affect an individual’s ability to work and quality of life.

Toxoplasma gondii infection can result in cognitive or visual disabilities, with 80% of infected fetuses/infants manifesting impairment by age 17. Impairments from acute fetal or newborn infection by T. gondii can include mild to severe mental retardation, moderate visual impairment, crossed-eyes, and in some cases blindness in one or both eyes.

The long-term health burden of foodborne disease is not well understood and there are few guidelines for long-term medical care. Additional research is needed to improve our knowledge about these diseases so that we can better understand the impact that foodborne illness is having on different populations, particularly young children.

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Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention