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Wilburn: Food-related illness has dramatic effects
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Know your bacteria

More information on the five main types of foodborne pathogens:

Shigella: A bacteria that causes diarrhea, fever, abdominal pain and abnormal stools. It is transmitted by infected people to others through fecal contamination directly or through food or water.

Cryptosporidium: A microscopic parasitic protozoan that causes mild to severe diarrhea. When ingested, cysts carrying the protozoan migrate to the small intestine where they cause illness. Infants and people with AIDS are particularly vulnerable.

Giardiasis: An infection caused by a water-borne parasite called Giardia lamblia. It is characterized by foul smelling diarrhea, large soft stools, excessive gas, a swollen abdomen, dehydration and loss of appetite. Young children can contract giardiasis by drinking contaminated water, including stream water, eating dirt or worm eggs or playing with infected dogs. Also, giardiasis easily can be spread between adults and children in child care or baby-sitting situations if hands are not properly washed after diaper changes.

Hepatitis A: Commonly spread through contaminated water supplies and through contact with infected people who do not take proper sanitary care. In child care settings, it can be avoided through proper hand washing and by sanitizing diaper change and other areas where stool may be present. Symptoms take 15 to 50 days to appear after contraction of the disease and infants and children younger than 6 may remain asymptomatic, or show only mild jaundice and darkened urine as symptoms, yet serve as carriers of the disease. Symptoms include fever, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, abdominal discomfort, muscle aches, darkened urine and enlargement of the liver. If hepatitis A occurs in a child care home or center, the center should seek medical advice in order to treat those who may be exposed and to prevent further spread of the disease. Infectious hepatitis is a disease of the liver caused by a virus called Hepatitis A.

Escherichia coli O157:H7: This is probably the most dreaded bacteria today among parents of young children. E. coli became a household word in 1993 when it was identified as the cause of four deaths and more than 600 cases of bloody diarrhea among children younger than 8 in the Northwest. Most strains of E. coli bacteria are harmless; however, this particular strain attaches itself to the intestinal wall and then releases a toxin that causes severe abdominal cramps, bloody diarrhea and vomiting that lasts a week or longer. In small children and the elderly, the disease can progress to kidney failure. The good news is that E. coli O157:H7 is easily destroyed by cooking. Use a thermometer to make sure ground beef is cooked to 160 F throughout.

Food may cause illness if it has been contaminated with parasites, viruses or bacteria, and all food can be carriers of these microorganisms.

At the right temperature, in just a few hours, even small amounts of bacteria you can't see, smell or taste can multiply to dangerous levels on susceptible foods and cause foodborne illness, sometimes called food poisoning.

Symptoms tend to resemble the flu. If diarrhea continues, this can become a nutritional concern, as diarrhea interferes with the absorption of nutrients from food.

Young children, infants, pregnant women, elderly people and people who are sick are especially susceptible to foodborne illness. So, it is important to take special care when serving food to these groups.

Although any microorganism can find its way into a child care or home setting, five pathogens seem to have particular importance in outbreaks of foodborne illness: Shigella, Cryptosporidium, Giardia lamblia, Hepatitis A and E. coli O157:H7.

Sanitation and safe food practices are some of the most important aspects of good food service. One error or one instance of carelessness can cause the spread of disease with drastic consequences.

Just as it's important to feed children nutritious, body-building foods, it is equally important that your meals and snacks be free from substances that may cause illness.

Nutrition and sanitation must go hand-in-hand in the home or in any food service operation.

Source: Colorado State University Cooperative Extension

Debbie Wilburn is county extension agent in family and consumer science with the Hall County Extension. Contact: 770-535-8290.

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