Summer diseases: food poisoning

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In the Gulf region, summer is one of the hottest and most humid seasons, and these climate changes play a big role in the emergence of many health problems and diseases that affect people of all ages and directly or indirectly affect human health.

These diseases are called “Summer diseases” because they appear more often in that particular season.

Summer diseases can affect most of the organs and systems in the body, especially the digestive system.

For example, gastroenteritis and food poisoning are responsible for the highest number of digestive system injuries, due to the spread of microbes and food spoilage caused by high temperatures and poor storage.

Food poisoning includes foodborne diseases, which are usually contagious and caused by microbes such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites, or their toxins that enter the body through eating contaminated food.

Food poisoning is characterized by two or more people suffering from similar symptoms after eating or drinking a common food or drink at the same time and place.

Food poisoning occurs when germs find an environment suitable for their survival, and infectious germs and their toxins can contaminate food at any stage of food storage, preparation, and cooking.

Factors that contribute to the growth and spread of bacteria:

1- Food type:

Germs prefer foods with high protein content, such as raw or cooked meat, as well as milk and dairy products.

These types of food are known as perishable foods, therefore, they must be handled carefully and stored in the refrigerator or freezer, and should not be kept at room temperature.

2- Temperature:

Temperatures between 37°C – 45°C are suitable for bacterial replication; therefore, cooked or fresh perishable foods must not be kept at room temperature for more than two hours.

Improper food preparation and handling practices can also increase the chances of bacteria multiplication as well as the risks of foodborne infection, such as not washing hands before preparing food or buying food from unreliable places, or re-freezing perishable foods for more than two hours in room temperature after taking it out of the refrigerator, as this dangerous behavior may lead to food poisoning due to the multiplication of microbes.

Symptoms of food poisoning may include one or several symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, and a fever that leads to a rapid deterioration of the health status due to the effect of both toxic substances as well as the effect of losing large amounts of bodily fluids, and if the patient doesn’t receive treatment and compensate for the fluid loss, this may lead to death, especially in children and the elderly people because of their weaker immunity.

The severity and duration of these symptoms vary depending on the cause, and symptoms usually appear 2 to 72 hours or more after consuming the contaminated food.

Symptoms that require medical attention:

Diarrhea that lasts for 3 days or more

Vomiting that lasts more than 12 hours

Blood in the stool

Severe pain or abdominal cramps

Fever above 100.4 F (38 C)

Prevention of food poisoning starts with a commitment to proper practices in preparing and handling food, such as adhering to general hygiene and food preservation rules.

The main factor in food poisoning prevention is washing hands, because the infection is transmitted to food and from one person to another through touch, and washing hands interrupts the spread of infection.

Prevention of food poisoning can be summarized in the following 4 points, starting with the letter “C”:

1- Cleaning hands and washing hands frequently before preparing food with hot water and soap for at least 20 seconds and removing rings and bracelets while preparing food because they are considered a suitable environment for the presence of germs, in addition, hands must be rewashed before returning to the food preparation process after interruption and at every stage of food preparation.

2- Cooling food at an appropriate temperature in the refrigerator to avoid the multiplication of bacteria.

3- Consuming food immediately after cooking and avoiding leaving it at room temperature for more than 2 hours as well as committing to cooking food well to eliminate any bacteria present in it.

4- Committing to the sterilization of surfaces and cooking utensils and avoiding contamination to help eliminate harmful bacteria and viruses and reduce the transmission of germs from one food to another, either directly when foods touch or indirectly through hands or kitchen utensils.

Dr. Badria Al-Harami, Consultant Public Health, Vice President of the Emirates Public Health Association

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