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Treatment of food poisoning

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

Food poisoning usually resolves by itself in a few days. In most cases rest, isolation, maintenance of hygiene and plenty of fluids is the best treatment for food poisoning.

Sometimes therapy may be needed for certain symptoms like headache, fever and nausea or vomiting.

There are several specific treatment of food poisoning, these include fluids, avoiding caffeinated beverages, antibiotics and so forth. (1-6)

Fluids to prevent dehydration

In most cases there is a severe loss of salts and electrolytes with vomiting and diarrhea.

There is need to replenish these as well as the fluid. Thus drinking water alone does not help and sometimes may be harmful as there is further deprivation of salts.

For therapy of continuous diarrhea and vomiting thus Oral Rehydration Salt Solution (ORS) is recommended.

The ORS is available as dry salt packets. The whole packet needs to be dissolved in one litre filtered, clean drinking water.

This solution needs to be sipped continuously for the whole duration of the diarrhea.

Avoidances of caffeinated beverages

Alcohol, sugary drinks and caffeinated beverages should be avoided.

Children and babies who are breast-feeding or bottle-feeding should continue the regular breast milk or formula feeding as much as possible.

Meals should be smaller and more frequent for easy digestion. Easily digested foods like toast, crackers, yoghurt, rice or bananas are preferred.

Antibiotics

Antibiotics may be prescribed if the cause of the food poisoning is detected.

In most cases this is not required. In case of parasitic infections or protozoal infestations specific antibiotics are needed.

Probiotics

Probiotics, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus, are preparations with beneficial bacteria. These can help restore the balance of good bacteria in the intestine.

These are handy for travellers to an area where the food and water may be contaminated.

Drugs to stop diarrhea

Some drugs are available to stop diarrhea like Loperamide. However, in most infective diarrheas this drug is not advised. It may cause more harm than good.

Botulism antitoxin

For botulism adults need botulism antitoxin within 72 hours after symptoms are first observed and infants below 1 year need botulism immunoglobulin (BIG).

If there is respiratory paralysis, mechanical breathing assistance may be needed with a ventilator.

Anti-allergy agents

Atropine is administered for mushroom poisoning.

Diphenhydramine and cimetidine are anti allergy agents that are prescribed for fish poisoning and Mannitol is advised for nerve-related symptoms of ciguatera poisoning.

Management of other complications

Other complications include arthritis or joint pain, bleeding, damage to the nervous system, kidney problems etc. these need specific management.

Kidney failure and severe damage to the kidney for example may require dialysis.

Prevention of food poisioning

Prevention of food poisoning (1-6) –

  • Washing hands before cooking or eating and after touching raw meat or food
  • Dishes and utensils need to be adequately cleaned
  • Food should be thoroughly cooked and stored at right temperatures. For example beef needs to be cooked to at least 160°F, poultry to at least 180°F, and fish to at least 140°F
  • Foods beyond their “use by” dates should not be consumed
  • Water that is cleaned and filtered should be taken
  • While caring for an adult or child with diarrhea, hands should be washed after any contact with possible infected material
  • Canned food should be used carefully to avoid botulism
  • Honey may cause food poisoning in infants below 1 tear. Honey should not be given to them to prevent botulism
  • Wild mushrooms, raw sea and shell fish (especially ones exposed to red tides) should not be consumed. Puffer fish preparations must be taken only from licensed restaurants to avoid acute often fatal poisoning
  • While travelling extra care to consume only clean water and freshly cooked food should be taken
  • Those with pregnancy and weak immunity need to be extra careful not to consume spoilt or suspicious food, raw fish, cheese etc. to avoid food poisoning

Edited by , BA Hons (Cantab)

Further Reading

What is Food poisoning?
Food poisoning Causes
Food poisoning Symptoms
Food poisoning Diagnosis

Last Updated: Jun 14, 2012

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