July 22, 2024

Lifelong Effects of Food Poisoning

Every person in American has had food poisoning at one time or another. After all, since 1 in 6 Americans contacts a foodborne illness every year, that means, statistically, every six years you’ll get sick. And considering that most foodborne illness cases go unreported, that number is probably much higher.

Woman's Torso Food PoisoningFor most people, food poisoning means a day or two of feeling miserable, with frequent trips to the bathroom. They may develop a fever and chills, and will definitely lose a few pounds. Most recover within a week.

But for some people, food poisoning means a lifelong battle with their health. An article in the April 2012 issue of Scientific American details some of the long-term consequences of eating a burger contaminated with E. coli or raw milk that contains Campylobacter.

These effects are called “chronic sequalae”, and they can include reactive arthritis, kidney failure, Guillain-BarrĂ© syndrome, urinary tract problems, damage to the eyes, hypertension, and diabetes. All of those conditions are side effects of infection by Salmonella, Shigella, E. coli 0157:H7, and Campylobacter.

Unfortunately, in the United States there aren’t many comprehensive studies on these long-term effects. The FDA, USDA, and CDC are far more focused on tracking victims during an outbreak than following up on long-term consequences. More “prospective studies”, which track and observe patients for years, are definitely needed.

One such study was conducted in 2009 by the Center for Foodborne Illness Research and Prevention. The white paper is called The Long-Term Health Outcomes of Selected Foodborne Pathogens.

The study identifies these specific long-term effects of the bacteria that cause the most foodborne illness:

  • Campylobacter. This bacteria can cause Guillain-BarrĂ© syndrome, the most common cause of paralysis in this country. It also causes heart infections, blood infections, gallbladder inflammation, meningitis, septicemia, and arthritis.
  • E. coli 0157:H7. An infection with this bacteria can be very serious in young children and the elderly. Hemolytic uremic syndrome can develop from an infection, which causes kidney failure, gallstones, irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes, and neurological complications.
  • Listeria monocytogenes. This bacteria is quite common in our food supply. It can cause infections of the brain and spinal cord. Most cases occur in children under the age of four. And listeriosis can cause premature birth, miscarriage, or stillbirth. Neurological problems can result from listeriosis, which causes vision problems, seizures, and paralysis.
  • Salmonella. Reactive arthritis can be triggered after a Salmonella infection. Victims can also suffer from myocarditis, which is inflammation of the heart, colitis, and infection of the bone marrow.

Since about half of all foodborne illnesses occur in children under the age of 15, these long-term effects have serious consequences in terms of suffering, dollars spend on healthcare, and lost years of life enjoyment and productivity.

Food Poisoning Bulletin talked to Dr. Barbara Kowalcyk, CEO and Director of Research for the Center for Foodborne Illness Research and Prevention about this issue. She said, “the best way to prevent long term effects of food poisoning is to prevent foodborne illness in the first place.”

“The lifelong effects of food poisoning are not very well researched or understood, so we don’t know the risk factors. Long term follow up isn’t conducted, since most cases are only followed for six months. We’ve like to see long term prospective or case control studies on this topic. These are very expensive to conduct, and it would take a long time to get results. We need this information now, but we have to use other means to fill the gaps today, including literature reviews, meta analysis, and studying electronic medical records. These methods don’t result in the same quality of data, but they are important.”

We asked Dr. Kowalcyk for the best ways to consumers to protect themselves against food poisoning. She said, “we recommend six safe food practices. First, use safe food and water, then practice the standards of “clean, separate, cook, and chill”. The last is to report foodborne illnesses if you are sick.”

“Most people think that the last thing they ate gave them the illness, but that’s not correct,” she continued. “It can take days or months for symptoms to appear after exposure. Reporting foodborne illness to public health officials helps us understand the impact of the illness. The person who is sick may be part of a larger outbreak. Notifying health officials early can help get contaminated products out of commerce.”


  1. Miranda Pechon says

    I was a missionary in Cambodia. I was suppose to be out for 18 moths but I contracted Campylobacter in February of 2013. I did not know I had it at the time. I carried the Camplobacter for 5 months before I had to be hospitalized after loosing 15 lbs, having constant fevers for 3 day time spans once a week for a month, diarrhea, vomiting, severe dehydration abdominal cramps, and chills, absent eating patterns. I was no longer able to tell if I was full of hungry and I couldn’t drink water.

    I was sent home on August 1st 2013.
    I was treated and found out I had the bacteria and I was given a series of probioltics before the antibiotics could be administered. But body had a very small amount of good bacteria in my intestines.
    I no longer carry Campylobater, but I have never been the same.
    I can no longer eat any Dairy. I am no longer allergic to avocados. I cant eat more than a fist full of meat a week.
    I have to eat almost completely vegan but even then it is hard for me to digest and I have diarrhea 3 times a week. I feel like i have an eating disorder because anything I eat just hurts my stomach or I get diarrhea an hour later. It is very cumbersome and I wish there were more studies. All I can really eat is bread, beans, rice and vegetables.
    If anyone has any more information I would greatly appreciate it.
    Miranda Pechon

  2. Both my children were diagnosed with Salmonella poisoning 2010.
    My daugher was 5 at the time and my son 3. THey were in hospital
    for 3 days and off for approximately 3 weeks.
    My daughter approxiamtely 6 months later lost all her finger nails and
    toe nails from the base. She also has white lines across her teeth
    as they come through. Now she has been diagnosed with eye problems
    and it seems my son is to folllow with eye problems.
    All this relates back to the salmonella poisoning.
    What else do we face in the future?


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