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Summer food poisoning: Concerns and prevention

Five-year-old Abdulrahman Karim wakes up in the middle of the night. He has vomited and he also has diarrhea. This occurs three times in three hours, and when he wakes in the morning he has a low grade fever. Karim has a mild case of food poisoning.

According to Tarek Fathy, a pediatrician, food poisoning is most common in this part of the world and in summer, because microbes travel most commonly through flies and live in heat.

The people most prone to food poisoning are children, pregnant women and people of old age due to their weaker immune systems.

Rotavirus, salmonella, hepatitis A, toxoplasma, norovirus and E-coli are all related to foodborne illness.  

This summer the E-coli outbreak in Germany had people around the world avoiding lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers. According to Maged Younes, director of food safety at the World Health Organization, “Outbreaks of foodborne disease are particularly likely to have economic implications as they often involve commercially produced products.”

Fathy says food that is not cooked is most likely to contain microbes or bacteria that can cause food poisoning. For example, sushi, if consumed from a restaurant that is not impeccably clean, can be dangerous.

Improper food handling is one of the most common causes of food poisoning in Egypt. Food poisoning causes can be divided into two categories, infectious agents and toxic agents.

Fruit and vegetables are often displayed in the heat and open air, where there can be lot of flies and a lack of cleanliness. They are also sprayed with chemicals, which if not washed off properly can poison. Thus even the cleanest looking produce must be thoroughly washed before being eaten.   

Fish can poison if not cooked properly or if left out. Raw fish can be contaminated for several reasons, ranging from infected sea water to lack of hygiene when handling it.

Meat, chicken and dairy products left in the open air can be a good environment for infectious agents to grow, especially in the heat.

Faika Abdel-Malek, a housewife, believes that while food is boiling hot, infectious agents cannot survive, but if one leaves food out until it is lukewarm one makes a perfect environment for the bacteria. She puts boiling food straight in the refrigerator. In her opinion, “take out what you want to eat, heat it and eat it but don’t leave it all out to cool on its own.”  

Fathy says refrigeration is key in making sure the food does not become infected.

The onset of symptoms varies with the type of virus or form of infection. Sometimes it is difficult to pinpoint the cause because of this. While a sufferer may think it was fruit they just ate it could be something from the day before.

Food poisoning symptoms are a stomach ache, often vomiting, diarrhea or fever, and sometimes all three.

Fathy says complications can occur because with vomiting, diarrhea and fever there is could be extensive loss of fluids. It can be difficult to stay hydrated.

When you have food poisoning the stomach is best kept empty, but water is essential. Rehydration medication can help. For energy, a soda drink with sugar like Sprite with the fizz let out is helpful.

Rest is important, as well as letting your stomach settle and gradually going back to normal eating habits. Staying away from dairy products and coffee can help speed recovery.

Choosing clean places to eat and being careful with your household's handling of food will help you avoid food poisoning. Fathy says one should be extra careful when feeding children because their immune system has not reached a level of maturity that can withstand certain infections.

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