Staphylococcal Food Poisoning

Staphylococcal food poisoning is caused by the toxins produced in the food contaminated by staphylococcal bacteria. It results in nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, accompanied by abdominal cramps.

The staphylococci bacteria are commonly found in the nose, mouth as well as the throat of people. They are present in the skin too, occasionally causing boils and other infections. They may grow in food, especially in milk, custard, fish and meat. Rather than the bacteria; it is the toxins made by the organism which are responsible for food poisoning. The contamination usually starts with unhygienic handling of food, especially by those with skin infections harboring staphylococcal bacteria. The bacteria multiply rapidly in undercooked food, and in cooked food remaining long at room temperature, producing the toxins which cause food poisoning.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Nausea and severe vomiting are the usual symptoms of staphylococcal food poisoning and they usually appear within 2-8 hours of consuming food contaminated by staphylococcal bacteria. Abdominal pain and cramping as well as diarrhea are often present. Some people may develop symptoms such as fever and headache too. Dehydration due to severe vomiting may lead to low blood pressure, and eventually shock, if the water and electrolytes lost are not replenished effectively. In some cases, especially in very young children and among those who are already weak from illnesses and old age, staphylococcal food poisoning may have fatal consequences. But otherwise, people completely recover from the illness within 12 hours of the onset of symptoms.

The typical symptoms of gastroenteritis alert the doctor to the possibility of Staphylococcal food poisoning. A lab test can detect staphylococci in the food suspected to have caused the food poisoning, but it is not often necessary. If other people who have consumed the same food have developed similar symptoms, it may be considered as confirmation of staphylococcal food poisoning. Large scale infections originating from public sources such as restaurants are investigated further for public safety.

Prevention and Treatment

Staphylococcal food poisoning can be avoided by practicing good hygiene measures while preparing and preserving food. People who have skin lesions or infected sores should refrain from handling food till the infection clears off completely. Prepared food should not be left at room temperature for long. If prepared food is not consumed immediately, it should be cooled down fast, and refrigerated, to avoid the growth of staphylococcus.

Treatment involves rehydrating the body by plenty of fluid consumption. Since bacterial infection is not the cause of illness, but the ingestion of toxins produced by the bacteria, antibiotics are not needed. If nausea and vomiting are severe, the doctor may prescribe a suppository or give an injection to reduce them. Intravenous administration of fluids may be necessary to combat severe fluid loss.

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Yasser Elnahas

MD, PHD, Professor Of CardioVascular Surgery
Dr. Yasser Elnahas, Is an associate Professor of Cardiovascular Surgery. Dr. Elnahas was trained as a fellow At Texas Heart Institute And Mayo Clinic Foundation.Dr. Elnahas is dedicated to educating the general public about different disease conditions and simplifying the medical knowledge in an easy to understand terminology.

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