Food poisoning is a very common illness. For most people it is usually mild, but food poisoning can be severe and even deadly for some individuals.
Most cases of food poisoning occur when people eat food or drink water containing bacteria, bacterial toxins (substances produced by bacteria), parasites, or viruses. Food poisoning can also occur when non-infectious poisons (such as poisonous mushrooms) or heavy metals (such as lead or mercury) find their way into people’s stomachs.
Canadians experience food poisoning more than two times the rate of people living in the United States. It is estimated that about 11 million Canadians experience food poisoning each year. People at greatest risk for food poisoning are seniors, pregnant women, young children and babies, and people with chronic medical conditions (i.e. diabetes, AIDS, liver disease).
It’s a dirty little secret of food poisoning: E. coli and certain other foodborne illnesses can sometimes trigger serious health problems months or years after patients survive that initial bout of illness. Scientists have started to unravel a lifelong legacy of chronic illness that, up until now, has largely gone unnoticed.
Some people that survived an E. coli infection as a child have now experienced high blood pressure, kidney damage, even full kidney failure some 10 to 20 years after they experienced the initial E. coli infection. Many people that had a bout of salmonella or shigella now experience arthritis and a mysterious paralysis has attacked some that had mild symptoms from the campylobacter bacteria years earlier.
Most people believe that once you heal from a case of food poisoning that you are back to normal without any lasting side effects. Those people that have long term lasting effects are usually unaware that it was the food poisoning so many years ago that caused their arthritis or kidney failure, high blood pressure, digestive problems, etc., in their later years. These late effects are believed to make up a very small fraction of the nation’s 76 million annual food poisonings, although no one knows just how many people are at risk. A bigger question is what other illnesses have yet to be scientifically linked to food poisoning?
With this rash of food recalls from Canada it makes you wonder how many of these food borne infections lead to other systemic problems for its victims down the road. Because of the time span between the initial food illness and the future health problems, it leaves you wondering if it is ever possible to have food poisoning without some lasting effects. It’s the people that seem to make a full recovery that leaves you wondering if their kidney failure, high blood pressure, thyroid removal, endometriosis, colon inflammation, and organ failure had something to do with the seemingly insipid food poisoning many years ago. Not to say that everyone that has had food poison symptoms is doomed down the road, but we are now realizing that many of these people will suffer long term consequences.
We know for sure that about 10% of patients that experience this infection will have a life threatening complication where they will experience kidney and other organ failure. We also know that a certain amount of people that suffered from a salmonella infection will develop what’s called reactive arthritis six months or longer after their initial infection. It causes joint pain, eye inflammation, sometimes painful urination, and can lead to chronic arthritis.
A variety of other lifelong illnesses seem to plague the people that come down with what was originally thought to be a one-time transient illness. Confirming the connection between a food poisoning in the past and a present health problem has proven difficult to link, but as time goes on researchers are realizing that food poisoning is not something to take lightly.
When you try to think of countries that might have substandard food inspections, Canada doesn’t seem to top the list, but recalls from the country of the Maple Leaf has been on an increase for the last six years. The Canadians have a notoriously poor whistle blower system, but it is underused because reprisal to the whistle blowers is all too common.
Canada does have a good food safety system, but there is room for improvement. Given the much higher rate of food poisoning in Canada and the increases in food recalls over the past few years, it makes you wonder, is there someone keeping an eye on the Canucks?