Treatments for Food poisoning


Treatments of Food poisoning discussion: Most cases of foodborne illness are mild and can be treated by increasing fluid intake, either orally or intravenously, to replace lost fluids and electrolytes. In cases with gastrointestinal or neurologic symptoms, people should seek medical attention.

In the most severe situations, such as HUS, the patient may need hospitalization in order to receive supportive nutritional and medical therapy. Maintaining adequate fluid and electrolyte balance and controlling blood pressure are important. Doctors will try to minimize the impact of reduced kidney function. Early dialysis is crucial until the kidneys can function normally again, and blood transfusions may be needed. 1

There are many different kinds of foodborne diseases and they may require different treatments, depending on the symptoms they cause.  Illnesses that are primarily diarrhea or vomiting can lead to dehydration if the person loses more body fluids and salts (electrolytes) than they take in.  Replacing the lost fluids and electrolytes and keeping up with fluid intake are important.  If diarrhea is severe, oral rehydration solution such as Ceralyte*, Pedialyte* or Oralyte*, should be drunk to replace the fluid losses and prevent dehydration.  Sports drinks such as Gatorade* do not replace the losses correctly and should not be used for the treatment of diarrheal illness.  Preparations of bismuth subsalicylate (e.g., Pepto-Bismol)* can reduce the duration and severity of simple diarrhea.   If diarrhea and cramps occur, without bloody stools or fever, taking an antidiarrheal medication may provide symptomatic relief, but these medications should be avoided if there is high fever or blood in the stools because they may make the illness worse.  2

A health care provider should be consulted for a diarrheal illness is accompanied by 

  • high fever (temperature over 101.5 F, measured orally)
  • blood in the stools
  • prolonged vomiting that prevents keeping liquids down (which can lead to dehydration)
  • signs of dehydration, including a decrease in urination, a dry mouth and throat, and feeling dizzy when standing up.
  • diarrheal illness that lasts more than 3 days

Do not be surprised if your doctor does not prescribe an antibiotic.  Many diarrheal illnesses are caused by viruses and will improve in 2 or 3 days without antibiotic therapy.  In fact, antibiotics have no effect on viruses, and using an antibiotic to treat a viral infection could cause more harm than good   It is often not necessary to take an antibiotic even in the case of a mild bacterial infection.  Other treatments can help the symptoms, and careful handwashing can prevent the spread of infection to other people.  Overuse of antibiotics is the principal reason many bacteria are becoming resistant. Resistant bacteria are no longer killed by the antibiotic.  This means that it is important to use antibiotics only when they are really needed.  Partial treatment can also cause bacteria to become resistant.  If an antibiotic is prescribed, it is important to take all of the medication as prescribed, and not stop early just because the symptoms seem to be improving.2

1. excerpt from Bacteria and Foodborne Illness: NIDDK
2. excerpt from Foodborne Infections General: DBMD

Last revision: May 27, 2003

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