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First Aid Guide: Foodborne Illnesses

Team AckoJun 12, 2023

Foodborne illnesses can be a nightmare, causing discomfort, pain, and in severe cases, even hospitalisation. Whether it's a case of food poisoning or an infection caused by contaminated food, knowing how to administer first aid is crucial. In this article, we will explore various aspects of first aid for foodborne illness, from understanding the symptoms to providing immediate relief. 

First Aid Guide: Foodborne illness



First Aid for Foodborne Illnesses: Quick action

Bacteria, viruses, parasites, or their toxins can contaminate food at various stages, from production to preparation. Here, we will discuss the first aid measures to be taken when encountering a case of foodborne illness.

1. Recognising symptoms

Foodborne illnesses present with a range of symptoms, often resembling other common ailments. It's crucial to recognise these symptoms early on to administer the appropriate first aid. Some common symptoms include the following. 

2. Providing rehydration and electrolyte replacement

One of the primary concerns during a foodborne illness is dehydration due to vomiting and diarrhoea. To counteract this, it's essential to provide rehydration and replenish lost electrolytes. Oral rehydration solutions (ORS), available at pharmacies or easily prepared at home, are ideal for this purpose. Ensure the affected person drinks small, frequent sips of the ORS solution to aid absorption and prevent further vomiting.

3. Seeking medical assistance

While most cases of foodborne illnesses resolve on their own within a few days, some require medical attention. Seek medical assistance if the following conditions arise.

  • Severe dehydration: Persistent vomiting and diarrhoea can lead to dehydration, especially in young children, the elderly, and individuals with weakened immune systems. Signs of severe dehydration include dry mouth, excessive thirst, decreased urination, dizziness, and lightheadedness. Medical intervention may be necessary to provide intravenous fluids and prevent complications.

  • Blood in stools: If you notice blood in your stools or if your stools appear black or tarry, it may indicate gastrointestinal bleeding. This can be a sign of a severe infection or other underlying medical conditions. 

  • High fever: A persistently high fever that does not subside with over-the-counter fever-reducing medications should be evaluated by a healthcare professional. It may indicate a more serious infection or a need for further investigation.

  • Neurological symptoms: Symptoms such as severe headache, confusion, dizziness, seizures, or any other abnormal neurological symptoms should not be ignored. These symptoms may suggest complications from foodborne illnesses or the involvement of specific pathogens that require medical attention.

  • Prolonged symptoms: While most cases of foodborne illnesses resolve within a few days, if symptoms persist or worsen beyond that timeframe, medical evaluation is recommended. Prolonged symptoms could indicate a more serious infection or an underlying condition that requires treatment.

  • Underlying health conditions: If you have an underlying health condition, such as a compromised immune system, chronic illness, or are pregnant, it's important to consult a healthcare professional promptly. These conditions can increase the risk of complications and require closer monitoring and medical management.

  • Outbreaks or public health concerns: If you suspect your illness is part of a larger outbreak or if local public health authorities have issued warnings or alerts regarding specific foodborne illnesses, it is crucial to report your symptoms and seek medical attention. Your healthcare provider can help identify the appropriate course of action and assist in public health surveillance efforts.

4. Resting and allowing the body to recover

During a foodborne illness, the body needs time to recover and heal. Adequate rest plays a vital role in the healing process. Encourage the affected person to rest, preferably in a cool and comfortable environment. 

5. Maintaining proper hygiene practices

To prevent the spread of foodborne illnesses and safeguard yourself and others, it's crucial to maintain proper hygiene practices. Here are some key guidelines.

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before and after handling food.

  • Avoid cross-contamination by keeping raw meats separate from other foods.

  • Cook food thoroughly, ensuring it reaches appropriate internal temperatures.

  • Store perishable foods at the correct temperatures (refrigerated or frozen). 

6. Applying cold compresses for fever reduction

Fever is a common symptom of foodborne illnesses. Applying cold compresses to the forehead, neck, or armpits can help reduce the body temperature and provide relief. Remember to use a clean cloth and replace it with a cold one as it warms up.

High-Risk groups regarding Foodborne Illnesses

While anyone can be affected by foodborne illnesses, certain groups of people are considered more vulnerable and at higher risk of developing severe complications. These high-risk groups require extra caution when it comes to food safety practices. Here are the primary high-risk groups regarding foodborne illnesses.

  • Children: Young children, particularly infants, have developing immune systems that are less equipped to fight off infections. Their immune systems may not be fully developed, making them more susceptible to foodborne illnesses. Additionally, children may have difficulty communicating their symptoms, leading to delayed diagnosis and treatment.

  • Pregnant women: Pregnant women undergo various physiological changes that can make them more susceptible to foodborne illnesses. Certain pathogens, such as Listeria monocytogenes, can cross the placenta and harm the developing foetus, leading to serious complications, including miscarriage, stillbirth, or developmental issues.

  • Elderly individuals: The immune system weakens with age, making older adults more vulnerable to infections, including foodborne illnesses. Age-related decline in organ function and chronic health conditions can further increase the risk of severe complications and delay recovery.

  • Immunocompromised Individuals: People with compromised immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS, cancer undergoing chemotherapy, organ transplant recipients, or individuals taking immunosuppressive medications, have a reduced ability to fight off infections. They are more likely to experience severe symptoms and have a higher risk of complications from foodborne illnesses.

  • Chronic Illness Sufferers: Individuals with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, kidney disease, or liver disease, may have weakened immune systems or reduced organ function, making them more susceptible to infections. These individuals may also have a harder time recovering from foodborne illnesses and are at a higher risk of complications.

  • Individuals with Gastric Disorders: People with gastric disorders, such as stomach ulcers or low stomach acid production, may have a compromised first line of defence against pathogens. This can increase their susceptibility to foodborne illnesses and exacerbate the severity of symptoms.

  • Travellers: Travelling to areas with different food safety standards or consuming unfamiliar foods increases the risk of encountering foodborne illnesses. Lack of immunity to local pathogens and exposure to unhygienic food handling practices can pose a higher risk, especially in developing countries.

Causes of Foodborne Illnesses

Here are some common causes of Foodborne Illnesses.

  • Bacteria: Pathogenic bacteria like Salmonella and E. coli contaminate food due to improper handling and storage.

  • Viruses: Norovirus and Hepatitis A can spread through contaminated food and water sources.

  • Parasites: Microscopic parasites such as Cryptosporidium and Giardia can be found in fruits, vegetables, and seafood.

  • Toxins: Toxins produced by bacteria like Clostridium botulinum and Staphylococcus aureus can contaminate food and cause illness.

  • Chemicals: Pesticides, heavy metals, and toxins from improperly stored or prepared food can lead to foodborne illnesses.

  • Allergens: Certain foods like peanuts, shellfish, and milk can trigger severe allergic reactions in individuals with allergies.

  • Cross-contamination: Transfer of harmful bacteria from raw to cooked food or contaminated surfaces can cause foodborne illnesses.

  • Unsafe food handling: Poor hygiene, improper storage temperatures, and inadequate cooking or reheating contribute to foodborne illnesses.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Here are some FAQs about first aid for foodborne illness, along with their answers.


Can over-the-counter medications help with foodborne illnesses?

Yes, over-the-counter medications such as anti-diarrheal drugs and anti-nausea medications can help alleviate symptoms. However, it's advisable to consult a healthcare professional before using any medication.

Are there any natural remedies for foodborne illnesses?

Certain natural remedies like ginger, peppermint, and chamomile tea can help ease nausea and aid digestion. However, if symptoms persist or worsen, it's crucial to seek medical advice. 

How long does it take to recover from a foodborne illness?

The duration of recovery depends on the specific illness and individual factors. In general, most foodborne illnesses resolve within a few days to a week. However, some infections may require longer recovery periods.

Can I prevent foodborne illnesses entirely?

While it may not be possible to prevent foodborne illnesses entirely, adopting proper food handling and hygiene practices significantly reduces the risk. It's important to handle, cook, and store food properly to minimise contamination.

Are children and the elderly more susceptible to foodborne illnesses?

Yes, children, especially infants, and the elderly are more vulnerable to foodborne illnesses due to their weaker immune systems. It's crucial to take extra precautions when preparing and serving food to these age groups.

Is it necessary to report cases of foodborne illnesses?

Reporting cases of foodborne illnesses is vital for public health monitoring and investigation. If you suspect a foodborne illness, notify your local health department to help identify potential sources and prevent further outbreaks.

Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. Please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.


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