The most common serious complication of food poisoning is dehydration — a severe loss of water and essential salts and minerals. If you're a healthy adult and drink enough to replace fluids you lose from vomiting and diarrhea, dehydration shouldn't be a problem. But infants, older adults and people with suppressed immune systems or chronic illnesses may become severely dehydrated when they lose more fluids than they can replace. In that case, they may need to be hospitalized and receive intravenous fluids. In extreme cases, dehydration can be fatal.
Some types of food poisoning have potentially serious complications for certain people. These include:
Jun. 16, 2011
- Listeria monocytogenes. Complications of a listeria food poisoning may be most severe for an unborn baby. Early in pregnancy, a listeria infection may lead to miscarriage. Later in pregnancy, a listeria infection may lead to stillbirth, premature birth or a potentially fatal infection in the baby after birth — even if the mother was only mildly ill. Infants who survive a listeria infection may experience long-term neurological damage and delayed development.
- Escherichia coli (E. coli). Certain E. coli strains can cause a serious complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome. This syndrome damages the lining of the tiny blood vessels in the kidneys, sometimes leading to kidney failure. Older adults, children under the age of 5 and people with weakened immune systems have a higher risk of developing this complication. If you're at high risk of hemolytic uremic syndrome, see your doctor at the first sign of profuse or bloody diarrhea.
- Foodborne infections. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/nczved/divisions/dfbmd/diseases/foodborne_infections/. Accessed April 20, 2011.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, et al. Diagnosis and management of foodborne illnesses: A primer for physicians and other health care professionals. MMWR Recommendations and Reports. 2004;53:1. http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr5304a1.htm. Accessed April 20, 2011.
- Bacteria and foodborne illness. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. http://www.digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/bacteria/Bacteria_Foodborne.pdf. Accessed April 20, 2011.
- Pigott DC. Foodborne illness. Emergency Medical Clinics of North America. 2008;26:475.
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- Listeriosis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Division of Foodborne, Bacterial and Mycotic Diseases. http://www.cdc.gov/nczved/dfbmd/disease_listing/listeriosis_gi.html. Accessed April 20, 2011.
- Fight BAC. Partnership for Food Safety Education. http://www.fightbac.org/storage/documents/flyers/fightbac_color_brochure.pdf. Accessed April 20, 2011.
- Minimum cooking temperatures. FoodSafety.gov. http://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/charts/mintemp.html. Accessed April 20, 2011.