Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health have received a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to educate AIDS patients on food safety.
The three-year, $600,000 award will be used to develop a better way to disseminate information to AIDS patients who are at high risk of developing infections from the foods they eat.
Nearly half a million people in the United States are living with AIDS, and the number is increasing.
AIDS patients whose immune systems have been severely suppressed by the HIV virus to a T-cell count below 200 cells per microliter are at risk of developing life-threatening infections from food-borne illnesses.
In addition to their compromised immune systems, people with AIDS may have low stomach acid, which is the first barrier against germs, said Dr. Mark Dworkin, UIC associate professor of epidemiology and principal investigator of the study. Stomach acid normally kills most of the germs that enter the body through the mouth. For example, such patients can become infected with salmonella bacteria from eating fresh fruits and vegetables that are not washed properly.
Dworkin said most people with AIDS are probably not aware that food safety recommendations for them may include heating lunch meat. Listeria, a foodborne pathogen that has been attributed to eating lunch meat and soft cheeses, can cause meningitis and sepsis in AIDS patients.
Other risks include:
- Toxoplasmosis, a pathogen transmitted by ingesting raw or partly cooked meat, which can cause encephalitis.
- Cryptosporidiosis, spread through contaminated water and beverages, which causes severe diarrhea that lasts for weeks or months.
- Mycobacterium avium complex (known as MAC), which can cause bacteremia, anemia, fatigue and wasting.
The researchers will interview 300 AIDS patients in Chicago, New Orleans and Bayam-n, Puerto Rico, to determine the biggest knowledge gaps in food safety.
"During the first wave of interviews, we'll ask questions about behavior and risk," said Dworkin. "Do they eat a lot of lunch meat? Do they eat p-t-? Do they cook their own food? Do they go out to eat frequently?"