The Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention (CFI) recently released a report reviewing and highlighting the long-term health consequences of five foodborne illnesses: Campylobacter, E. coli O157:H7,  Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella, and Toxoplasma gondii, offering a stark reminder to those who think food poisoning is generally limited to an upset stomach. 

“Foodborne disease is a serious public health issue that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), causes tens of millions of acute illnesses, hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations, and thousands of deaths each year in the United States,” says the report.

As the study notes, the severity of acute foodborne diseases varies greatly depending on the pathogen and the individual’s immune system, “The impact of foodborne illness on children, as well as for the elderly and immune suppressed (e.g., pregnant women, people undergoing chemotherapy, organ-transplant recipients, HIV/AIDS patients), is more likely to be serious and/or long-lasting.”

Here is an overview of the report:

Campylobacter afflicts millions and hospitalizes over ten thousand Americans annually, and is associated with the most common cause of neuromuscular paralysis in the U.S., Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS), which can cause disability and paralysis. Campylobacter can also trigger arthritis, heart infections, and blood infections.

E. coli O157:H7 is especially risky for children, according to CFI. “Children have the greatest incidence rate and are at the greatest risk for developing serious complications. E. coli O157:H7 can develop into hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), the leading cause of acute kidney failure in children in the United States,” said the report, which lists end-stage kidney disease, neurological complications and insulin-dependent diabetes as the potential long term health consequences of HUS–if it doesn’t kill you.

Listeria monocytogenes infects thousands of Americans. Nearly all cases come from contaminated food, and most cases occur in children under the age of four. Listeria can cause brain and spinal cord infections and result in serious neurological damage. 

hospitalized-child-featured.jpgSalmonella can trigger reactive arthritis (ReA), a painful condition, which can affect an individual’s ability to work and perform daily tasks. Nearly half of all reported Salmonella cases occur in children. The study also highlights the dangers of antibiotic-resistant strains of Salmonella and the increasing incidence of infection in children.

Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii) causes cognitive and visual disabilities. According to the CFI study, there is a high incidence of these disabilities from infants and fetuses infected–80 percent will develop these disabilities by age 17. 

The study offers the most up-to-date medical understanding of long-term health problems caused by foodborne illness, but also emphasizes the need for further research “The long-term health burden of foodborne disease is not well understood and there are few guidelines for long-term medical care,” notes CFI. “Additional research is needed to improve our knowledge about these diseases so that we can better understand the impact that foodborne illness is having on different populations, particularly young children.”

The full report can be downloaded from the CFI Website.