Food Poisoning May Hurt for Life

Doctors say foodborne illness might cause long-term problems such as seizures.

ByABC News
November 13, 2009, 5:37 PM

Nov. 15, 2009— -- Episodes of food poisoning may have serious long-term consequences -- including kidney failure or mental retardation -- particularly among children, researchers say.

A new report that reviews previous data has found that five common foodborne pathogens may increase the risk of serious complications, according to lead author Tanya Roberts, of the Center for Foodborne Illness in Grove City, Pa.

"Our report addresses the fact that most foodborne pathogens can cause severe disease in some small probability of cases," Roberts said during a press briefing. "These serious or long-term complications include kidney failure, paralysis, seizures, hearing and visual impairment, and mental retardation."

The five major pathogens are Campylobacter, E. coli, Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella, and Toxoplasma gondii. But more than 200 pathogens can contaminate food and cause disease, Roberts said.

While the severity of the acute infection varies greatly, depending on the pathogen and the patient's own vulnerability, the most common symptoms are diarrhea and vomiting. But even after a patient recovers from these symptoms, they may have to deal with longer-term effects.

Researchers aren't sure exactly how prevalent the long-term effects are. That's why Roberts and other researchers have called for a strong national surveillance network to keep track of cases of foodborne illness and monitor them for long-term effects.

"There's a great deal of uncertainty about the magnitude of these problems and the scope of the issue," said Craig Hedberg, of the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, who was not involved in the study.

"That uncertainty springs from the fact that we don't have good surveillance for the diseases, much less long-term follow-up of cases to really estimate the rate of occurrence for these serious conditions."

Roberts said the next step would be to set up a systemized reporting system "to follow acute foodborne illnesses and be more definitive about the long-term side effects that occur."