A watery situation
LIVING in Malaysia means every day can be a gastronomic adventure. Many individuals, especially those living in urban areas, rely on hawker stalls and restaurants to get most of their meals.
Although tasty and convenient, eating out all the time exposes one to a higher risk of food poisoning, which can prove to be dangerous and even fatal if immediate medical attention is not sought.
Food poisoning occurs when contaminated food is consumed. The food could be contaminated through contact with faecal matter during handling or prepared with contaminated ingredients and/or water.
The two most common types of bacteria responsible for food poisoning are Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus. Other types of bacteria that cause severe food poisoning symptoms include Salmonella, Shigella, cholera and Campylobacter enteritis.
Food poisoning occurs in the gut, mainly the small and large intestines. The virulent bacteria produce harmful toxins that elicit inflammation in the bowel system.
Inflammation leads to symptoms such as abdominal cramps, fever and chills, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. Bloody diarrhoea and feeling weak are more serious symptoms of food poisoning.
Doctors often diagnose and treat food poisoning based on patients’ description of symptoms and stool texture as well as a physical examination of the abdomen. If there is a reported outbreak of a certain infection, doctors may prescribe a stool test to identify the bacteria.
Severe cases involving haemorrhage may warrant a sigmoidoscopy where a thin hollow tube with a camera is inserted through the rectum to identify sources of bleeding or infection.
The most common treatment option for food poisoning is ensuring that a patient does not experience dehydration from excessive loss of fluids. This includes managing diarrhoea as well as controlling the nausea and vomiting.
Patients may be prescribed oral rehydration mixtures to replenish fluids and minerals lost through diarrhoea and vomiting. If necessary, they may also be given antibiotics to stop the infection.
Under extreme circumstances of dehydration, the doctor may admit a patient to a hospital so that he may receive intravenous (IV) saline fluid restoration and medication.
Infants, pregnant women and the elderly tend to manifest more serious symptoms of food poisoning. Therefore, close attention must be paid to their symptoms and treatment.
In terms of diet, it is recommended that patients with food poisoning cease the consumption of solid foods until they have been rehydrated and stopped vomiting and experiencing diarrhoea.
Once they feel better, they can try consuming foods such as crackers, toasts, banana, clear soups, decaffeinated tea and porridge.
It may take some time to be on their feet again, so they should not rush into consuming dairy, high-fat and spicy foods upon recovery.
Patients require plenty of rest and should take the day off their duties to regain strength. With proper treatment, they should recover from food poisoning within 12 to 48 hours.