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Treatment of Food Poisoning

There are many different kinds of food poisoning (or "foodborne disease"), and they may require differenttreatments, depending on the symptoms they cause.

Food PoisoningCausing Diarrhea and Vomiting

Food poisoning cases that primarily cause diarrhea orvomiting can lead to dehydration if the person loses more body fluids and salts(electrolytes) than they take in. Replacing the lost fluids andelectrolytes and keeping up with fluid intake are important. If diarrheais severe, oral rehydration solution such as Ceralyte, Pedialyte or Oralyte, should be taken to replace the fluid losses andprevent dehydration. Sports drinks such as Gatorade do not replace thelosses correctly, and should not be used for the treatment of diarrheal illness.

Preparations of bismuth subsalicylate(e.g., Pepto-Bismol) can reduce the duration and severity of simplediarrhea. If diarrhea and cramps occur, without bloody stools orfever, taking an antidiarrheal medication may providesymptomatic relief, but these medications should be avoided if there is highfever or blood in the stools because they may make the illness worse.

When to Contact aHealth Care Provider

A health care provider should be consulted if a diarrheal illness is accompanied by:

  • High fever (temperature over 101.5 F, measured orally)
  • Blood in the stools
  • Prolonged vomiting that prevents keeping liquids down (which can lead to dehydration)
  • Signs of dehydration, including a decrease in urination, a dry mouth and throat, and feeling dizzy when standing up.
  • Diarrheal illness that lasts more than 3 days

Use of Antibiotics

Do not be surprised if your doctor does not prescribe anantibiotic. Many diarrheal illnesses are causedby viruses and will improve in 2 or 3 days without antibiotic therapy. Infact, antibiotics have no effect on viruses, and using an antibiotic to treat aviral infection could cause more harm than good. It is often not necessaryto take an antibiotic even in the case of a mild bacterial infection.

Other treatments can help the symptoms, and careful hand washingcan prevent the spread of infection to other people. Overuse ofantibiotics is the principal reason many bacteria are becoming resistant.Resistant bacteria are no longer killed by the antibiotic. This means thatit is important to use antibiotics only when they are really needed. Partial treatment can also cause bacteria to become resistant. If anantibiotic is prescribed, it is important to take all of the medication asprescribed, and not stop early just because the symptoms seem to beimproving.

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