Are You Sick?

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Michigan State University and three county health departments are working together to find causes and patterns in food-borne illness. A new Web site has been posted to help the cause.

In the month that the new Web site,, has been up, reports of food-borne illness have increased to eight times the norm. Every year in the United States, nearly 76 million people suffer from food poisoning, but many never know the cause.

The Web site allows people to log-on, describe their symptoms, and then see numbers of other people who might have eaten the same thing, or at the same place. The information is then used by county health officials to determine patterns.

Prof. Paul Bartlet at MSU says the Web site might also help in discovering potential terrorism. He would also like use to increase because, he says, the more people who use the site, the more information officials will have to use.

Those who log-on can do in anonymously, or they can provide contact information. All information is confidential and used only by health departments. Extended Web Coverage

Foodborne Illness

Are some foods more likely to cause foodborne illness than others?

  • Just about any food can become contaminated if handled improperly. However, foods rich in protein, such as meat, poultry, fish, and seafood, are frequently involved in foodborne illness outbreaks.

  • Protein-rich foods tend to be of animal origin. Therefore, microorganisms of animal origin are frequently found in animal foods.

  • Animal foods are rich in protein that bacteria break down into amino acids, which are an important nutrient source to some bacteria.

  • Bacteria also need moisture in order to survive and reproduce. Thus, they thrive in foods with high moisture content. These include starchy, egg-rich foods and cream-based foods, such as potato or pasta salads, cream-based soups, and custard or cream pies.

Symptoms of Foodborne Illness

  • Common symptoms of foodborne illness include diarrhea, abdominal cramping, fever, headache, vomiting, severe exhaustion, and sometimes blood or pus in the stools.

  • However, symptoms will vary according to the type of bacteria and by the amount of contaminants eaten.

  • In rare instances, symptoms may come on as early as a half hour after eating the contaminated food but they typically do not develop for several days or weeks.

  • Symptoms of viral or parasitic illnesses may not appear for several weeks after exposure.

  • Symptoms usually last only a day or two, but in some cases can persist a week to 10 days.

  • For most healthy people, foodborne illnesses are neither long lasting nor life threatening. However, they can be severe in the very young, the very old, and people with certain diseases and conditions.

  • When symptoms are severe, the victim should see a doctor or get emergency help. For mild cases of foodborne illness, the individual should drink plenty of liquids to replace fluids lost through vomiting and diarrhea.

Can the symptoms of foodborne illness be mistaken for the flu?

  • Yes. Foodborne illness often shows itself as flu-like symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or fever, so many people may not recognize that bacteria or other pathogens in food cause the illness.

  • Experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that many of the intestinal illnesses commonly referred to as stomach flu are actually caused by food-borne pathogens. People do not associate these illnesses with food because the onset of symptoms often occurs two or more days after the contaminated food was eaten.

Source: (The Food and Drug Administration Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition Consumer Advice Web Site)