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Food poisoning deaths underestimated

Deaths from food poisoning caused by bacteria such as Salmonella kill more people than previously thought, as recently reported by researchers. Salmonella in poultry products and eggs, and Campylobacter, which is found in chicken, are leading causes of food poisoning.

Food poisoning deaths underestimated

Deaths from food poisoning caused by bacteria such as Salmonella kill more people than previously thought, as recently reported by researchers. Salmonella in poultry products and eggs, and Campylobacter, which is found in chicken, are leading causes of food poisoning. Foodborne bacterial infections have a major and perhaps increasing effect on the public health and economy of industrialised countries. It is difficult to determine the exact mortality associated with bacterial infections that are usually foodborne. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the United States estimates that about 5,200 people there die each year from food poisoning, but the Danish researchers believe the true figure could be nearly twice as high. They said deaths from food poisoning are underestimated because they usually occur within 30 days after infection and there is very little long-term data. Food poisoning deaths can also be wrongly attributed to other illnesses. In most people the infections are not serious and usually result in a few days of diarrhoea, stomach cramps or fever, but in the very young, the elderly and people with chronic illnesses like diabetes or HIV, they can be deadly.Researchers at the Statens Serum Institute in Copenhagen believe that deaths from food poisoning could be twice as high as current estimates and can occur up to a year after infection. The study comprised of 48,857 people with gastrointestinal infections plus 487,138 controls from the general population. They studied the medical history of 1,071 people who had died within a year of being infected with Salmonella, Campylobacter, Yersinia enterocolitica or Shigella.
Deaths within the first year after infection were 2.2% in the people who had food poisoning, compared to 0.7% in a control group of 3,636 people. Infection with these food poisoning bacteria was associated with an increased short term risk of death, even after pre-existing illnesses were taken into account. The infections were also associated with increased long term mortality. Researchers advised people to cook meat thoroughly and to wash fruits and vegetables in clean water to avoid food poisoning, which can be treated with antibiotics. They also added that the overuse or misuse of antibiotics can lead to the development of strains of bacteria resistant to the drugs.

BMJ February 2003; 326(7385)
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