July 29, 2021

Who Are High Risk Populations in Food Poisoning Outbreaks?

When Food Poisoning Bulletin writes about outbreaks, we always mention how some groups are more likely to suffer serious illness and complications if they get sick. Who are high risk populations? And why are they high risk in the first place?

Who Are High Risk Populations in Food Poisoning Outbreaks?

The main groups that are at higher risk for problems if they contract a food poisoning infection include:

The elderly

Pregnant women

Very young children

Anyone with a chronic illness

Anyone who has a compromised immune system

These groups are more susceptible to hospitalization for different reasons. Anyone who has a family member in one of these groups should take extra care in cooking food safely and should keep up with food recalls and outbreak notices.

Elderly people are more susceptible to serious problems from food poisoning for several reasons. First, they are more likely to have chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, or cancer. Those conditions make the body less able to fight off infection. In addition, their immune systems may be weaker. And their stomachs and intestinal tracts can hold onto food for longer periods of time, meaning that bacteria have more opportunity to invade epithelial cells in the GI tract. Almost half of those over the age of 65 are hospitalized if they are sickened with food poisoning.

Pregnant women may also have weaker immune systems, since their body is working to not reject the fetus as a foreign invader. A pathogen of special concern for pregnant women is Listeria monocytogenes, which can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature label, and infection in the newborn, even if the woman is only mildly ill. Pregnant women can also pass food poisoning infections, such as Salmonella, to the fetus.

Very young children are at risk because their immune systems are still developing. Children under the age of five are most susceptible to developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) as a result of an E. coli infection. This type of kidney failure can be life-threatening. And children are less likely to show obvious signs of dehydration due to vomiting and diarrhea, which can cause serious problems.

Chronic illnesses such as diabetes, liver disease, or kidney disease can weaken the immune system, making anyone with those conditions more susceptible to serious complications. In addition, the immune system in these patients may be less likely to be able to recognize and fight against a pathogen. People on dialysis are 50 times more likely to get a Listeria monocytogenes infection. And in diabetics, high blood sugar levels suppress the function of white blood cells that fight infection.

Finally, people with compromised immune systems, such as those who have received organ transplants or who have autoimmune disease, in addition to people undergoing chemotherapy or radiation therapy, are in high risk populations. They cannot fight off infections as easily as health people. And they are more likely to have a lengthier illness or need hospitalization if they do get sick.

Now that you know the high risk populations for food poisoning complications, and why they are susceptible, you are armed with knowledge. Pay special attention to food safety when cooking and preparing food, and know the common signs of food poisoning to protect yourself and your family. Don’t hesitate to call a doctor if someone in your family gets sick.

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